Timeline stalls war funding talks
Democrats offer to let Bush waive the bill’s schedule, but his chief of staff rejects that idea.
washington — Talks between congressional Democratic leaders and the White House over paying for the Iraq war appeared deadlocked Friday, almost three weeks after President Bush vetoed a spending bill because it included a timeline for withdrawing U.S. forces.
In a bid to retain the timeline in a second version of the bill, Democratic leaders offered Friday to allow the president to waive the timeline.
But Bush’s chief of staff, Joshua B. Bolten, flatly rejected the idea at a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (DNev.), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and other lawmakers.
“Whether waivable or not, timelines send exactly the wrong signal to our adversaries, to our allies and, most importantly, to our troops in the field,” Bolten said, flanked by House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (ROhio).
Bolten, Reid and Pelosi all called the meeting “disappointing.”
Bush this month called on Bolten and other senior White House aides to negotiate with Democratic leaders after he vetoed a war spending bill that required a withdrawal to begin no later than Oct. 1 and set a nonbinding goal of completing a pullout by April.
That plan linked the timing of the withdrawal to the Iraqi government’s progress on a series of political benchmarks, such as disarming militias and sharing oil revenue equitably among the country’s regions.
Emboldened by public disaffection with the war and driven by their party’s most fervent antiwar members, Democratic leaders are looking for ways to compel an end to U.S. military involvement in Iraq.
“The American people want our troops to come home,” Reid said Friday after the meeting with Bolten. “The American people expect the president to respond to some basic things, like a timeline.”
Democrats also offered Friday to remove domestic spending from the war funding bill in deference to Bush’s complaints that the previous bill contained billions of dollars of agricultural aid and other nonmilitary spending.
With the president now seemingly open to measures to hold the Iraqis accountable, Bolten appeared interested in a proposal that would link further economic aid for Iraq to the performance of its government.
That plan is now embraced by many Republicans eager to show a commitment to putting more pressure on the Iraqis.
This week, 52 senators, including seven Democrats, voted in favor of that proposal, cosponsored by Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), a former Navy secretary and the former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The Warner plan, which also gave the president the authority to waive it, remains unpopular with many Democrats, who consider it weak.
“There must be accountability in the legislation if Democrats are to support it,” Pelosi said Friday.
Democratic leaders, who want to send a bill to the president before Memorial Day, have given few indications how they will fashion legislation that can win congressional majorities and avoid another veto.
‘ DISAPPOINTING’: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sits with, from left, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten. Pelosi, Reid and Bolten all called their meeting “disappointing.”