President Bush on Thursday re-asserted his intent to veto the bill currently under discussion in the House, which would immediately release half of the defense spending budget, but retain the second half for release after the Iraqi government has shown progress.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty in funding when it comes to two-month cycles, so we reject that idea,” Mr. Bush told reporters during a Pentagon press conference. “I’ll veto the bill if it’s this haphazard, piecemeal funding — and I’ve made that clear.”
However, Bush also indicated that he would support the inclusion of benchmarks in the bill--something members of both parties have pushed.
"One message I have heard from people from both parties is that the idea of benchmarks makes sense. And I agree," Bush told reporters after meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon. "It makes sense to have benchmarks as a part of our discussion on how to go forward."
The president said his chief of staff, Joshua B. Bolten, would try to “find common ground on benchmarks” for the Iraqi government in his negotiations with lawmakers.
Bush specifically mentioned the passage of Iraqi legislation to share oil revenues, the future division of power in Iraq, and the opening of some government jobs to former members of the Baath Party of Saddam Hussein as items requiring attention.
Despite the President's rhetorical support of benchmarks, he insists the performance of the Iraq government not be tied to any punitive consequence for failure to achieve the stated goals.
The Bush Administration, most notably through Dick Cheney's surprise trip to Iraq, is pressuring Maliki's government to move swiftly on a number of long-pending measures, including legislation to share Iraq's oil wealth, to hold provincial elections and to update the constitution.
Under the current bill under discussion in the House, which Pelosi has scheduled for a vote late Thursday, Congress would vote again in July to release an additional $52.8 billion after Bush provides assessments of the war. Congress then could decide to use the second batch of money for more combat or to begin withdrawing troops.
In the view of the Democrats, withholding some funds now could pressure the Iraqis to work harder to stabilize their country.