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Bush threatens to veto `disastrous' withdrawal plan

WASHINGTON—President Bush blamed Congress on Wednesday for putting a "disastrous" troop-withdrawal plan into a war-spending bill, threatened again to veto it and said Congress would feel heat from the public if war funds ran out.

Democrats responded that the $122 billion bill provides all the money Bush requested, plus more to restore the military and help those who are suffering the wounds of war. Democrats said Americans had lost faith in the president's handling of the war, offered to work with him on a new plan and suggested that the public will fault Bush if he vetoes the bill providing money for troops in the field.

The testy exchange came as the Senate prepared to vote this week on a war-spending bill similar to one that the House of Representatives passed last Friday. The Senate's bill requires that some American troops start to leave Iraq in four months and sets a goal for getting all combat troops out by March 31, 2008, except for a residual force that would stay to fight terrorists, train Iraqis and protect Americans.

The president said he'd veto the bill if it contained a timetable for withdrawing and non-emergency spending.

"Now, some of them believe that by delaying funding for our troops, they can force me to accept restrictions on our commanders that I believe would make withdrawal and defeat more likely. That's not going to happen," Bush said in a speech to the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. "If Congress fails to pass a bill to fund our troops on the front lines, the American people will know who to hold responsible."

Congress' Democratic leaders—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California—said Bush should meet with lawmakers to work out differences. They wrote to him Wednesday seeking such a meeting.

"We stand ready to work with you, but your threats to veto a bill that has not even been presented to you indicate that you may not be ready to work with us. We hope that is not the case," Reid and Pelosi wrote.

At a news conference, Pelosi added: "I would extend a hand of friendship to the president, just to say to him: `Calm down with the threats. There is a new Congress in town. We respect your constitutional role; we want you to respect ours.'"

After the Senate passes its bill, a House-Senate conference committee will start to work out differences and craft a final version to send to the president for his signature or veto.

Pelosi suggested that Bush would face public criticism if he vetoed a bill providing war funds, money for veterans' and military health care, assistance to victims of Hurricane Katrina and other needs at home.

She said American troops were in the middle of a civil war that the Iraqi government wasn't doing enough to end. Congressional Democrats want to require Iraq's government to meet benchmarks of progress toward ending the violence and creating a government that represents all the country's ethnic and religious groups.

"In our legislation, we are saying we support our troops by funding the military. We honor our promises to our veterans, which we have not been doing, and we hold the Iraqi government accountable. This has not been happening," Pelosi said.

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(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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