WASHINGTON – Vice President Dick Cheney, on Capitol Hill Tuesday for a regular Republican leadership meeting, lashed out against Democrats adding a timetable for withdrawal into the Iraq war supplemental spending bill.
Rarely commenting to the press after congressional visits, the vice president came before cameras to call a speech by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid "uninformed and misleading." He accused Reid and Democrats of pursuing their Iraq plans for the sake of political advantage, and he criticized Reid over conflicting statements he has made, from pledging not to cut funding to troops in Iraq while pushing for withdrawal to supporting a bill proposed by Sen. Russ Feingold that would defund the war should President Bush veto the withdrawal plan.
"In less than six months time, Senator Reid has gone from pledging full funding for the military, then full funding with conditions, and then a cut-off of funding. Three positions in five months on the most important foreign policy question facing the nation and our troops," Cheney said.
"Indeed last week, he said the war is already lost, and the timetable legislation that he is now pursuing would guarantee defeat," Cheney said.
Firing back at Cheney, as well as the president, Democrats called Bush's policy unaccountable and destined for failure.
"I'm not going to get into a name-calling match with somebody who has a 9 percent approval rating. ... I'm not going to get into a name-calling match with the administration's chief attack dog," Reid said after being asked about Cheney's remarks.
"If you look at what we have done in this legislation, we have done what is good for troops, good for our country. There is no question about that. And this is not a time for name-calling, I think it's a time for cinching up our belts, doing what's right for the troops. That's what our supplemental appropriations bill is about," Reid said.
The White House and Democratic-led Congress are in a war of words over provisions in the $124 billion emergency war spending bill. Late Monday, House and Senate Democrats settled differences between their two versions of the bill. Both chambers are expected to pass the compromise through party-line votes later this week.
The agreement — known as the conference committee report — would provide money to sustain military operations in Iraq, but would also require troops to begin to withdraw by Oct. 1 with a completion goal six months later. Democrats intend to send the bill to the president on Monday.
Unswayed by the latest moves in Congress, Bush on Tuesday repeated his promise to veto the supplemental spending bill.
"I'm disappointed that the Democratic leadership has chosen this course," Bush told reporters before leaving for New York City for an education policy event and a private fundraiser to benefit the Republican National Committee.
"They chose to make a political statement," he said. "That's their right but it is wrong for our troops and it's wrong for our country. To accept the bill proposed by the Democratic leadership would be to accept a policy that directly contradicts the judgment of our military commanders."
Bush said he would then work to pass a "clean bill" free of timetables and other restrictions that would be "handcuffing our commanders, spending billions of dollars unrelated to the war and forcing our nation to withdraw on the enemy's terms."
But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the president's intransigence demonstrates his inability to command policy.
"The response that the president gave when he heard of the bill was the response of a president whose administration is in disarray. For the first time, the president will have to face up, will have to be accountable for this war in Iraq," Pelosi said.
"Mr. President, we sincerely hope that you change your mind, that you understand that this is a responsible bill to change policy and move in a new direction — a successful direction for our efforts internationally to defeat terrorism. Sign this bill," added House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer alongside Pelosi and other top House Democrats.
And if Reid refrained from any name-calling, Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., had no problem directly attacking Cheney, saying he misled the country over weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and Saddam Hussein's links to terrorists, and has sugar-coated the situation in Iraq.
"It is Vice President Cheney who has been wrong, and deadly wrong in Iraq. Even more, Vice President Cheney is the last person in the administration who should accuse anyone of making uninformed and misleading statements," Kennedy said, speaking Tuesday from the Senate floor.
But with scant Republican support for the timetable provisions and heavy criticism of the domestic spending items, Democrats will not be able to overcome the two-thirds majority needed to override the veto. Democrats then would be forced to rework the bill into something that could pass both chambers.
Republican opposition began ramping up Tuesday. Radio ads were expected to begin running that would attack Reid, D-Nev., in the words of an Iraq veteran.
According to a transcript, an Iraq veteran identified as Capt. Trip Bellard says, "Senator Reid's remarks undercut the morale of our soldiers and undermine our troops on the ground."
And GOP party officials on Tuesday hoped to use words from one of the chief withdrawal proponents, Rep. Jack Murtha, D-Pa., against the Democratic cause. The RNC distributed a clip of Murtha being interviewed on a cable news show answering a question about how to respond to Bush saying that Congress "shouldn't be micromanaging the war."
"That's our job," Murtha said, adding that the White House has been unaccountable with contractors and spending in Iraq. "It's time for [Bush] to get a redeployment plan. If he doesn't do that, we're going to have the disaster he predicts. ... I think the surge has failed."
The conference committee agreement also quickly drew angry opposition from a leading Republican House member, who issued a warning to Democratic leaders for not listening to military commanders as they write war policy.
"I just don't think that it's a good idea for us here in the Congress to try to manage the conduct of the war," Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Fla., told his colleagues during a meeting Monday. Young also is seasoned in military appropriations.
In the 2003 run-up to the war, Young said administration officials dismissed a top Army officer's estimate that securing Iraq would probably require several hundred thousand troops.
As outlined by Democratic officials, the emerging legislation would require U.S. forces to begin withdrawing before Oct. 1 if Bush cannot certify that the Iraqi government is making progress in disarming militias, reducing sectarian violence and forging political compromises.
Another provision in the measure would withhold about $850 million in foreign aid from the Iraqis if the government does not meet those standards.
The Pentagon would be required to adhere to certain standards for the training and equipping of units sent to Iraq, and for their rest at home between deployments. Bush could waive the guidelines if necessary. Democrats assume he would, but they want him on record as doing so.
Under the nonbinding timeline, all combat troops would be withdrawn by April 1, 2008.
After that date, U.S. forces would have a redefined and restricted mission of protecting U.S. personnel and facilities, engaging in counterterrorism activities against Al Qaeda and other similar organizations, and training and equipping Iraqi forces.
Democrats jettisoned some of the domestic spending that Bush has held up to ridicule, including funds for spinach growers and peanut farmers. Reid, Pelosi and others decided to include money to help farmers hit by natural disasters as well as the victims of Hurricane Katrina, although Democrats charge that the non-war-related items in the bill are ones that Republicans neglected to deal with in the previous Congress.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.