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Democrats Cool to Bush Call for Meeting on Iraq

The staring contest between Congressional Democrats and President Bush over the future of the Iraq War intensified Tuesday, as Democratic leaders quickly dismissed as a political ploy Bush’s proposal for a round of negotiations on a $120 billion supplemental spending package.

Bush on Tuesday called for talks with House and Senate Democratic and Republican leaders on how to craft a supplemental package that does not include language bringing the Iraq War to an end or that would limit his ability to continue to fight the Iraqi insurgencies.

At the same time, his Republican allies in the Senate continued to ramp up their defense of Bush’s war policies, accusing Democrats of putting troops at risk by delaying the supplemental and seeking to force the White House to accept a “retreat date.”

“The House needs to return from the recess so we can get started getting the money to the troops,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday.

In a sign of the growing political pressure on Republicans, the administration released a new round of warnings alleging that further delay in passage of the supplemental will force troops to remain in Iraq longer and will deprive them of needed training and equipment.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Tuesday sought to deflect any criticism that he’s trying to cut off funding for the troops, insisting he simply is pushing to ensure there is “a strategy for success” that sets a pathway to bring U.S. forces home.

Reid said he is willing to strike a compromise on the outstanding emergency war supplemental, but only if Bush remains open to negotiate. Insisting on the terms of the discussions beforehand is unacceptable, Reid said.

“The president is inviting us down with preconditions; that’s not the way to operate,” Reid said. “The president is now having to deal with the Congress. He’s never had to do that before.”

Reid couldn’t offer a specific timeline for completion of the conference report on the supplemental spending bill, but he vowed that Congress is “working on it” and will get it done “as soon as we can.”

“We are trying to be reasonable; we’re trying to be proactive,” Reid said.

Likewise, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said that while Democrats would welcome discussions with Bush, “if the president simply insists again that Congress rubber-stamp his failing stay-the-course strategy this would ignore the American people’s desire for us to work together,” adding that “after four years of repeated mistakes by this administration in Iraq, it is long past time for the Congress to demand accountability and a change in direction that will serve our nation’s security interests.”

Democratic leadership aides also privately questioned what they believe is increasingly political posture of the Pentagon. One source pointed out that earlier this year military officials had informed Congress that adequate funding existed to hold the Defense Department over until June, but now that the White House is calling for immediate action on the supplemental, the Pentagon has changed its estimates.

Despite the heated rhetoric, little headway on the measure is expected this week and aides on both sides predicted that little in the way of substantive talks between the two sides will occur.

“There’s not much else to do other than bitch at each other,” one GOP aide said.

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