WASHINGTON — President Bush said Saturday that a Democratic plan to set an end date for the war gives “our enemies the victory they desperately want.”
Bush and Democratic congressional leaders are trying to bolster their positions on the Iraq war before a scheduled White House meeting.
At Bush’s invitation, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are due at the White House on Wednesday to discuss the war, particularly a bill funding the military mission through September.
In both the House and Senate, Democrats have attached timelines for withdrawing troops to the bill containing $96 billion in military funding.
Bush says the meeting will be about his nonnegotiable stance on a timeline.
“Instead of approving this funding, Democrats in Congress have spent the past 68 days pushing legislation that would undercut our troops,” he said in his weekly radio address. “They passed bills that would impose restrictions on our military commanders and set an arbitrary date for withdrawal from Iraq, giving our enemies the victory they desperately want.”
In a statement, Reid, D-Nev., responded: “Democrats are continuing to fight to fully fund our troops and give them a strategy for success worthy of their sacrifices. President Bush continues to insist that we follow his same failed strategy that has drawn our troops further into an intractable civil war.”
Bush chided Democrats for taking a spring break without finishing work on the bills, and said they’ll be to blame if troops have to go without necessities as a result of the standoff.
“The longer Congress delays the worse the impact on the men and women of the armed forces will be,” Bush said. “I recognize that Republicans and Democrats in Washington have differences over the best course in Iraq, and we should vigorously debate those differences. But our troops should not be trapped in the middle.”
‘The burden of the war in Iraq’
Democrats, however, say next week’s session must be a two-way discussion.
They seized on this week’s announcement that troops’ combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan are being extended by three months as evidence that Bush’s policies are failing.
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The announcement “just underscores the fact that the burden of the war in Iraq has fallen upon our troops and their families,” said Pelosi, D-Calif. “The Bush administration has failed to create a plan to fully equip and train our troops, bring them home safely and soon, and provide our veterans with the quality care they deserve.”
Both Bush and the Democrats have been arguing that the public is behind their position — the president says Americans want success in Iraq, while Democrats argue voters backed an end to war when they put them in charge of Congress in the November elections.
On Saturday, the president agreed with Democrats that “the American people voted for change in Iraq.” But he said that is what is happening now, under a new war plan he announced three months ago to send extra U.S. troops to Iraq to calm Baghdad and Anbar Province and to install a new war commander, Gen. David Petraeus.
“I call on members of Congress to put partisanship on hold, resolve their differences, and send me a clean bill that gets our troops the funds they need,” Bush said.
He planned to continue to press this point nearly every day next week, when all of Congress will be back in session after House lawmakers return.
In addition to devoting the radio address to Iraq and convening the meeting with Democrats, the president is speaking on the Iraq war spending dispute in the White House Rose Garden on Monday and in Ohio on Thursday and Michigan on Friday.
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