March 15, 2007

Bush: I'll Find My Veto Pen

The White House has threatened to veto the new Democratic bill to limit his options in Iraq, which would double the number of vetoes in the Bush administration. No one expects the measure to pass in Congress, but the President wants to leave no doubt about its fate if it does:

In the face of determined opposition from the Bush administration, the Senate on Wednesday began an impassioned debate over an exit strategy from Iraq, headed toward a vote on a Democratic resolution aimed at a pullout of American combat troops in 2008.

Underscoring the mounting tensions between the Democratic Congress and the White House, administration officials immediately issued a veto threat, even though the measure is considered unlikely to win final passage. The administration’s statement denounced the Democratic plan in forceful terms, declaring that it would “embolden our enemies” and “hobble American commanders in the field.”

In the House, Democratic leaders scrambled on the eve of a critical test vote for their own Iraq legislation — a huge emergency spending bill that also includes a timetable for withdrawal in 2008. It is to go before the Appropriations Committee on Thursday and to the floor of the House next week. The White House has vowed to veto that measure as well. ...

What is at issue is a Democratic resolution that would set a goal of removing most combat troops from Iraq by March 31, 2008, and declare that the United States mission must be redefined to find a political — not a military — solution. Despite the measure’s slim prospects for final passage, Democratic strategists hope that it will step up pressure on the administration and Republicans on Capitol Hill to shift course on a war that, many noted, will pass the four-year mark next week.

Republicans described the resolution as an exercise in micromanagement. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, called it “unprecedented in the powers it would arrogate to the Congress in a time of war.”

Democrats countered that the resolution provided something the Republicans lacked — an exit strategy. Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat, said, “To those who say we would micromanage the war I say, isn’t it time for somebody to manage the war?”

A veto here will be tricky. He needs supplemental funding for the Iraq theater to maintain operations, and Congress has to generate that appropriation. Vetoing a funding bill may mean that Congress simply won't produce one in a timely fashion, which would put the effort in Iraq in a very precarious position. Democratic leadership probably won't withstand pressure to keep the troops funded and supplied, but the temptation for mischief will certainly arise.

Republicans have started working on alternatives that will require the White House to communicate directly with Congress on progress on a regular basis but which avoids the timelines and tripwires of the Democratic bill. John Warner will float a proposal to establish political and military goals for the Iraq theater and demand testimony every sixty days from the Pentagon to update Congress on progress. It will not contain conditional elements that would require a retreat if progress does not meet the rather ridiculous conditions in Cut and Run 3.0, and Warner hopes to attract moderate Democrats to this alternative.

The Democrats have their own problems with the legislation. A large portion of their caucus do not believe the current proposal goes far enough, and some have demanded that an excised section barring the Bush administration from attacking Iran be restored. Jesse Jackson, Jr said that Democrats should not vote on party lines on issues of war and peace, which indicates that a significant number might defect, stage Left.

The White House will probably never have to veto this legislation, for the simple reason that it has little enough support as it is.


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