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Thursday, March 29, 2007


Dems prepare for veto fight over war
By ANNE FLAHERTY, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON - Democrats are moving unflinchingly toward a high-stakes veto fight with President Bush over the Iraq war as the Senate wraps up work on legislation ordering combat troops home from Iraq.This Congress is taking the responsible course and responding to needs that have been ignored by your administration and the prior Congress," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wrote in a letter to Bush.The Senate was expected on Thursday to pass a $122 billion bill that would require Bush to start bringing home an unspecified number of troops within four months, with a nonbinding goal of ceasing combat operations as of March 31, 2008.

The final vote on the bill comes after the Senate agreed 50-48 to uphold the withdrawal language, and the House passed similar legislation. The House last week approved a more sweeping measure, including a mandatory withdrawal deadline for all combat troops before September 2008.

The two sides still need to settle their differences and approve a final conference bill. But Democrats said the recent votes guaranteed the president would be handed a measure imposing some sort of timetable on Iraq.

"This war without end has gone on far too long and we're here to end it," Pelosi said.

Reid said the ball was now in the president's court.

"The Senate and the House have held together and done what we've done," he told reporters. "It's now in his corner to do what he wants to do."

The legislation is the Senate's first, bold challenge of Bush's war policies since Democrats took control of Congress in January. With Senate rules allowing the minority party to insist on 60 votes to pass any bill and Democrats holding only a narrow majority, Reid had been unable to push through resolutions critical of the war.

This latest proposal was able to get through because Republicans said they didn't want to block an appropriations bill needed for the war.

"I think the sooner we can get this bill ... down to the president for veto, we can get serious about passing a bill that will get money to the troops," said Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Bush used a speech at the National Cattlemen's Beef Association meeting Wednesday to deliver his latest in a series of veto threats on the measure. Confident Democrats did not have the two-thirds majority votes to override his veto, Bush said Democrats would be the ones to blame if troops go without funding.

"If Congress fails to pass a bill to fund our troops on the front lines, the American people will know who to hold responsible," he said.

But Pelosi and Reid didn't flinch.

"On this very important matter, I would extend a hand of friendship to the president, just to say to him, 'Calm down with the threats,'" she said. "There's a new Congress in town. We accept your constitutional role. We want you to accept ours."

Democrats acknowledge they do not have enough support in Congress to override Bush's veto, but say they will continue to ratchet up the pressure until he changes course.

The looming showdown was reminiscent of the GOP-led fight with President Clinton over the 1996 budget, which caused a partial government shutdown that lasted 27 days. Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., the House speaker at the time, eventually relented but claimed victory because the bill represented a substantial savings over the previous year's spending. Bush said the money is needed by mid-April or else the troops will begin to run out of money, but some Democrats say the real deadline is probably closer to June.