A bitter debate turns increasingly nasty

Any pretense of civility vanished long ago in the bitter debate over funding of President George W. Bush’s failed Iraq war.

With both sides of the issue firmly entrenched, Capitol Hill insiders see little chance for compromise and progress as the funding bill faces a certain veto from Bush today because it sets a timetable for withdrawal of troops.

Some see it as more than just a difference opinion. It is pure, unbridled hate.

Reports Carolyn Lochhead of The San Francisco Chronicle:

The escalation of the Iraq war is occurring not just in Baghdad but also in Washington, where increasingly shrill rhetoric from the White House and congressional Democrats is aimed at squeezing the moderates in both parties who ultimately will determine if and when U.S. troops come home.

From Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid’s “the war is lost” comment last week to President Bush’s characterizations of any limits on his war authority as “wrong for our troops and wrong for our country,” both sides have steadily hardened their positions.

After narrow Senate approval Thursday of an enormous war spending bill containing withdrawal deadlines, Democrats promised to send the $124.4 billion legislation to the White House for Bush’s assured veto on Tuesday _ the four-year anniversary of the “Mission Accomplished” speech the president delivered aboard an aircraft carrier while wearing a flight suit.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino responded that the bill represents “Mission Defeated.” Republicans said the deadlines were tantamount to surrender.

An unstable combination of personality, principle and political pressure pits a president determined not to relinquish any control over the war against an increasingly aggressive Democratic-led Congress backed by voters who want U.S. troops to leave Iraq.

“I don’t know where it’s taking us,” said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., a freshman senator who has expressed doubts about Bush’s surge strategy but backed the president in Thursday’s 51-46 Senate vote. “What we don’t need it to become is a battle of egos.”

The operating assumption since the struggle began three months ago is that Bush ultimately will get the money he needs to continue the war for another year. Democrats barely passed the spending bill and have nowhere near the two-thirds majorities in either chamber to override a veto.

But the fight has arrived faster than either side expected, evolving week by week into an institutional power struggle. On one side are Democrats who contend that Congress has a constitutional right and a moral imperative to have a say in the war; on the other is a president who throughout his tenure has jealously guarded and expanded his presidential prerogatives and whose legacy is inextricably bound to Iraq.

“The rhetoric is escalating because, in part, each side wants to see who’s going to jump out of the car first as they approach the edge of the cliff,” said Jack Citrin, a University of California-Berkeley political scientist, “and because, of course, they genuinely hate each other, in my opinion.”