Deadlock continues between Bush, Congress

Deadlocked with Congress over Iraq, President Bush begins the week with a message that some good might come from sitting down with his Democratic adversaries. His vice president’s view is more antagonistic: Democrats will ultimately cave.

Bush on Monday will again prod Congress to pass a war-spending bill that does not include timetables for U.S. troop withdrawals or limitations on his military commanders. Both the House and Senate have passed bills to fund the war and start drawing troops home.

In a Rose Garden statement, Bush is expected to show at least some hope about his White House meeting Wednesday with congressional leaders of both parties. So far, Bush has called Democrats irresponsible, promised to veto their bill and refused to negotiate.

“His position hasn’t changed,” White House communications director Kevin Sullivan said Sunday. “But he’s hopeful that the discussion on Wednesday will be productive.”

In particular, the White House sees a chance for the meeting to yield some clarity about what will happen next — particularly because the Democrats have to reconcile their own differences. Bush’s comments come as the House prepares to return from a two-week break.

By hosting and pledging not to budge, Bush has little to lose. The war and his management of it remain deeply unpopular.

On Monday, he will speak after meeting briefly in the Oval Office with families of veterans and military service organizations.

Meanwhile, Vice President Dick Cheney says he is “willing to bet” that Democratic lawmakers will back down and approve a war-spending bill that doesn’t call for U.S. troops to leave Iraq. Top Democratic leaders shot back that Cheney has lost all public credibility.

In an interview broadcast Sunday, Cheney predicted Congress will end up passing a “clean” bill that funds the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan without any troop withdrawal timetables. Democrats do not appear to have the votes to override a presidential veto.

“They will not leave the troops in the field without the resources they need,” Cheney said of the Democrats.

Asked what would happen if they don’t back down, Cheney said, “I’m willing to bet the other way — that, in fact, they will.”

“There may be some people who are so irresponsible that they wouldn’t support that,” Cheney said. But the majority will send Bush the bill he wants “once they’ve gone through the exercise and it’s clear the president will veto the provisions that they want in,” he said.

However, the Senate Armed Services Committee’s chairman said Congress won’t relent in winding down the war.

If Bush vetoes a bill calling for troop reductions, Democratic lawmakers would probably come back with a second try that requires the Iraqi government to meet performance benchmarks or face consequences, said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich. Iraq’s leadership is struggling to make the progress it has promised on political reconciliation, distribution of the country’s oil wealth and other vital goals.

“We are very, very serious about what the American people said in November,” Levin said, referring to the election that put Democrats in charge of Congress. “They want a change of course.”

Cheney’s blistering criticism of Democrats, the latest in a series of recent speeches and interviews, drew harsh words from Levin.

“He has misled the people consistently on Iraq,” Levin said. “He has misstated. He has exaggerated. And I don’t think he has any credibility left with the American people.”

The House and Senate are expected to negotiate war spending legislation this week. The Democratic proposal would approve $96 billion in military money, mostly for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and set a timetable for troop withdrawal.

“The American people know that the height of irresponsibility is to put this country at risk by mismanaging a war from day one,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. He, too, said Cheney “has long since lost credibility.”

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 would order all combat troops out by Sept. 1, 2008. Most Republicans stand with Bush on grounds that a timetable is a dangerous war policy.

Cheney’s interview, taped Saturday, was on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” Levin spoke on “Fox News Sunday.”


Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press