President Bush repeated his intent to veto the legislation passed this week by Congress, saying "I haven't vetoed the first bill yet, but I'm going to ... I made it clear I would veto it," at a news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Bush said he wanted to invite Congressional leaders to the White House for negotiations as soon as he vetoes the bill, so that an acceptable revised version can be presented quickly. Neither the House nor the Senate passed the measure with the two-thirds majority needed to override a Presidential veto, though they could always send back a revised version.
"If they want to try again that which I've said is unacceptable, of course I won't accept it," the president said during a news conference here with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. "I hope it won't come to that."
White House counselor Dan Bartlett faced a tense moment on CBS this morning, as Hannah Storm loaded her question, first reminding him that a recent CBS news poll indicated 64% of the American public supported setting a timetable for troops withdrawals in 2008. "So this seems to be not only what Congress wants, but what the American people want," she said. "Is the President still going to veto?"
Of course Bartlett kept to talking points about how the Dems knew Bush would veto any timeline, and that Petraeus had briefed Congress about progress the surge was making and the challenges that lie ahead. Then he reaffirmed the President's intent to veto quickly, "so then Democrats and Republicans can come together and negotiate a way forward. What we found here was that Democrats were unwilling to negotiate with Republicans; they were insisting on these arbitrary deadlines."
Democrats have indicated they might drop the timeline that Bush refuses to accept, but have insisted there will be other strings attached, perhaps involving the benchmarks that received bipartisan Congressional support.
Reid had said Thursday that it could take another month to put together a new spending bill--an exaggeration comparable in size to Bush's claim that Democratic politics are pinching the pocketbooks of US commanders in Iraq.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., urged Bush on Friday to "carefully read this bill."
"He will see it fully provides for our troops and gives them a strategy worthy of their sacrifices," Reid said. "Failing to sign this bill would deny our troops the resources and strategy they need."
The bill's total pricetag is $124.2 billion, allocating more than $90 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Democrats added billions more for domestic programs, including assistance for Hurricane Katrina victims and veterans' medical care.
The legislation requires a troop withdrawal to begin July 1 if Bush cannot certify that the Iraqi government is making progress in disarming militias, reducing sectarian violence and forging political agreements. If they are making progress, the deadline for beginning withdrawal is extended to October 1.
A limited number of troops could stay to conduct counterterrorism missions, protect U.S. facilities and personnel, and train Iraqi security forces.