WASHINGTON - President Bush's veto of an Iraq war spending bill that set timelines for U.S. troop withdrawals puts new pressure on Democrats in Congress to craft a compromise even as their caucus grows more fractious on the topic.
The party's most liberal members, especially in the House, say they will vote against money for continuing the war if there's no binding language on troop drawdowns. Bush and almost all congressional Republicans continue to insist on a spending bill with no strings attached on troop movements.
"We're back to the drawing board," said Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore. "I want Congress and the president to come together on this so the troops are funded while they are in harm's way. This bill is also important to Oregon because it includes county payments funding. I am already working with Senator Wyden to make sure this federal funding is included in the new draft."
Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., said he thinks some efforts will follow to find that compromise.
"Hopefully, starting today, the president and the Democratic leadership can reach common ground on a measure that will make sure our men and women in uniform and their commanders in the field have the authority and equipment to get the job done in Iraq while holding the Iraqi government accountable for keeping their end of the deal," Walden said this morning.
"In addition, it's critical that the new funding bill continues to contain money for our counties and schools," he added. "With libraries and jails closing and county workers losing their jobs, time is of the essence."
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., could not be reached for a comment in time for this story.
Umatilla County Commissioner Dennis Doherty said the bill included a one-year extension of the federal forest safety net, more commonly known as county payments. Approval of the bill would have provided about $650,000 for the county road department and another $250,000 for the county's common school fund.
"For us, the veto is anticlimactic because the president had promised a veto even as the bill was being developed," Doherty said. "We know that our congressional delegation still is riding this hard. The bottom line is that the fat lady hasn't sung yet."
Umatilla County Commissioner Larry Givens said he was disappointed, but the president's veto was "not unexpected."
"It's not devastating to us, but it hurts, he said. "Senator Wyden, and, I'm sure, Senator Smith, will be right back, with Congressman Walden to be sure those county payments are included somewhere in that budget."
Givens said the county's budget already is tight. The Budget Committee has said a long-range plan is needed for curbing expenditures, he added.
Bush on Tuesday rejected legislation pushed by Democratic leaders that would require the first U.S. combat troops to be withdrawn by Oct. 1 with a goal of a complete pullout six months later.
"This is a prescription for chaos and confusion and we must not impose it on our troops," Bush said. "It makes no sense to tell the enemy when you plan to start withdrawing."
The standoff gives Republicans leverage, because even with the liberals' votes, Democrats don't have enough support to override Bush's veto. It will force Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to seek more Republican help in drafting a new bill that Bush might accept, her allies and opponents say.
"I think the Democrats are in a box," Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., said. "We're pretty resolute on our side. We are not going to tie this funding to any type of withdrawal deadline or any type of redeployment deadline."
Some Democrats believe the GOP solidarity will crack over time, noting polls show heavy public support for a withdrawal plan.
Lawmakers in both parties agree a workable compromise is a huge challenge in the coming days or weeks. Because Democrats control the House and Senate, the pressure mainly is on them to craft a bill that Bush will sign, and thus avoid accusations that they failed to finance troops in a time of war.
Many Democrats say a new spending bill must include so-called benchmarks for progress in Iraq that, if not met, would trigger movements of U.S. troops out of the country or perhaps to non-urban areas that see little sectarian violence. A new spending bill "has got to be tied to redeployment," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., the House's fourth-ranking Democratic leader.
Emanuel conceded, however, Democrats have yet to figure out where they will find the votes.
The situation frustrates Democrats, who won control of the House and Senate in an election that largely focused on Iraq.