Time­line stalls war fund­ing talks

Democrats of­fer to let Bush waive the bill’s sched­ule, but his chief of staff re­jects that idea.

Los Angeles Times - - The Nation - By Noam N. Levey

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.

noam.levey@la­times.com

Mark Wil­son Getty Images

‘ 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.”

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