Republicans Battle Democrats Over Funding U.S. Troops in Iraq, Afghanistan

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday they are willing to accept an invitation to sit down with President Bush to discuss the emergency war spending bill, but there can be no "preconditions" on the meeting.

Bush shoved back hard, indicating no wiggle room on his postion for a bill that would fund American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan without a timetable for withdrawal. Both House and Senate bills include timetables for withdrawal.

"We can discuss the way forward on a bill that is a clean bill — a bill that funds our troops without artificial timetables for withdrawal, and without handcuffing our generals on the ground," he said in a speech to the American Legion in Fairfax, Va.

Reid rejected the invitation in that form.

"That's not the way things should operate," he said. "The president's now having to deal with Congress. He's never had to do that before. The president in the past has just done whatever he wanted; he had a big rubber stamp up here."

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino reminded reporters that Bush is responsible for making troop decisions. She said Bush would meet with lawmakers to explain his position on troop withdrawal, but added: "This is not, not a negotiation."

On that, Reid cried foul.

"He wants us to go down there and say, 'I want a clean bill.' That's not negotiating," he said.

Reid said it's time for the President to recognize that Democrats control Congress now, and that the President must deal with Democrats on an equal footing.

"He has to deal with Congress. We are an independent branch of this government by our Constitution we have equal say of the people. He's got to listen to us, because we are speaking for the American people. He isn't," Reid said.

Reid's response was the latest in the intensifying push-and-shove match between the Democratic-controlled Congress and the White House.

Bush responded to the Democratic leaders by demanding they cut their vacations short and get back to work.

"Democratic leaders in Congress are bent on using a bill that funds our troops to make a political statement about the war," Bush said. "They need to do it quickly, get it to my desk so I can veto it. And then Congress can get down to the business of funding our troops without strings and without further delay."

Bush said without funding, the "clock is ticking for our troops in the field."

“Instead of approving that vital funding, the Democratic leadership in Congress has spent the last 64 days pushing legislation that would undercut our troops just as we are beginning to make progress in Baghdad,” said Bush, who sent the funding request to lawmakers 64 days ago.

The Senate bill would require a U.S. troop exit in Iraq to begin within 120 days, with a completion goal of March 31, 2008. The House bill orders all combat troops out by Sept. 1, 2008.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi shot back at Republicans on Monday, calling their efforts a "cheap political stunt."

"Coming from the Republicans, who ran the 'do-nothing' Congress, this letter is a cheap political stunt," Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly said in a statement to FOX News.

"The American people overwhelmingly support the Democratic plan for change in Iraq, yet the president has threatened to veto legislation that contains his own benchmarks for success in Iraq, ensures our troops have the training they need, and supports our veterans," Daly added.

Republicans sent Pelosi a letter earlier this week calling on her to order the House back into session before its scheduled back-to-work date next week.

"Senate Republicans are prepared to send a clean bill to the president for his signature, yet inaction by the House is preventing Congress from moving forward to fund our men and women on the ground," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The Department of Defense will send Congress a bill soon to transfer $1.6 billion from other military accounts to cover delayed funding for troops, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters Tuesday.

If Congress doesn't approve Bush's funding request by April 15, the Department of Defense will begin moving funding around to pay for operations. Republicans say that after June, there won't be any more funding to move around.

“I don’t understand this attitude that we play with, we can risk the lives of these troops by waiting until the last possible minute to get the funding to them,” Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., told FOX News.

The legislation that would pay for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan contains a timetable that would withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq. Bush has repeatedly vowed to veto any bill that includes a withdrawal timetable.

House lawmakers are scheduled to return to Washington, D.C., next week. Senators are back in session.

Both the House and Senate have passed versions of the bill — the House version is $124 billion and the Senate version is $122 billion. House and Senate negotiators need to agree on the final version before it can be sent to the president.

FOX News' Wendell Goler and Trish Turner contributed to this report.