WASHINGTON—President Bush turned up the rhetorical heat Tuesday on antiwar Democrats in Congress, saying that their insistence on adding troop-withdrawal terms to a war-spending bill risks delaying money that's needed within weeks and could endanger service members in Iraq.
In a wide-ranging news conference that also touched on a Supreme Court ruling, gasoline prices and Middle East diplomacy, Bush stressed his belief that Democrats are being "irresponsible" on Iraq. He repeated his threat to veto any bill that contains a troop-withdrawal date, warned that if war-funding legislation isn't signed by mid-April it could force cuts in equipment and training, and said further delay could force extended tours of duty for soldiers there.
The Senate passed a $123 billion war-spending bill last week that also called for most U.S. troops to withdraw from Iraq by March 31, 2008. The House of Representatives passed a similar measure the week before, which calls for American troops to be out by September 2008.
Democrats say they're trying to respond to the public majority, which wants to get out of Iraq while ensuring that troops who are there now get the money they need to protect themselves.
The president and most Republicans say the Democrats' stance undermines the troops and micro-manages a mission that's better left to the military, although Bush himself manages key elements of the war strategy, such as how many more troops to send to Iraq this year.
"The bottom line is this," the president said in the White House Rose Garden. "Congress' failure to fund our troops on the front lines will mean that some of our military families could wait longer for their loved ones to return from the front lines. Others could see their loved ones heading back to the war sooner than they need to."
Democrats responded in kind.
"The president today asked the American people to trust him as he continues to follow the same failed strategy that has drawn our troops further into an intractable civil war," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said in a written statement. "The president's policies have failed and his escalation endangers our troops and hurts our national security."
Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean and Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and Barack Obama, D-Ill., issued similar statements.
Touching briefly on other topics, Bush also:
_Said "we take very seriously" Monday's Supreme Court ruling that rebuked his stand that the Environmental Protection Agency has no authority to regulate auto emissions that contribute to global warming. The court ruled that the EPA must do so unless it can provide a scientific basis for refusing.
Bush said the ruling was "the new law of the land" and that his administration was studying it carefully. He said he recognized that humans contributed to global warming, new technologies must be developed to help combat it, policies to do so mustn't impede economic growth and that China and India must cooperate for policies to make a difference.
_Blamed rising gasoline prices on political tensions surrounding Iran's capture of 15 British sailors and marines in the Persian Gulf. That's "spooked" global oil markets, which drove up U.S. gasoline prices, the president said.
On Tuesday American oil prices fell $1.30 a barrel to $64.64 after the news that an Iranian diplomat who'd been missing for two months in Iraq had been released, suggesting that the crisis may be easing. The national average cost for regular unleaded gasoline is $2.69 a gallon, according to AAA.
_Said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad—like earlier meetings with Assad by Republicans, Democrats and Europeans—sent "mixed signals" that enhanced Assad's legitimacy even though Syria sponsored terrorism. The world would be better served by working in concert to change Assad's behavior than by sending visiting delegations, Bush said.
_Vowed there'd be no swap of the captured Britons for Iranians held in Iraq.
(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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