US President George W. Bush, seeking to gain an advantage over Congress' Democratic majority in a showdown over the Iraq war, suggested yesterday that lawmakers should be ashamed that they added non-war items to an Iraq spending bill.
"I like peanuts as much as the next guy, but I believe the security of our troops should come before the security of our peanut crop," Bush said in his weekly radio address, referring to a provision in the war funding legislation that earmarks US$74 million for secure peanut storage.
The Senate passed a bill calling for most US combat troops to be out of Iraq by March 31 next year while the House version demands a withdrawal for September next year. In both houses, the timelines are attached to legislation providing money to fund military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan this year.
Bush repeated his promise to veto the bills if the timelines stay in -- and if the unrelated earmarks stay in as well -- because they "undercut our troops in the field."
"Each bill would impose restrictive conditions on our military commanders," the president said. "Each bill would also set an arbitrary deadline for surrender and withdrawal in Iraq and I believe that would have disastrous consequences for our safety here at home."
House and Senate negotiators will have to reconcile the different versions and lawmakers left town for a two-week spring break without doing so. Earlier on Friday, the White House, claiming that money for troops is already beginning to run out, complained that the House should have at least named its negotiators before leaving.
But Democrats said that any blame for shorting troops and their families of what they need will fall at Bush's feet if he vetoes a spending bill Congress sends him.
"It's his responsibility," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said.
In the Democrats' weekly radio address, an Iraq war veteran asked Bush to resist the urge to veto the legislation.
"Both houses of Congress have done their jobs and will soon finish a bill that will provide for the troops," retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Horne said yesterday. "When they're done, the only person who could keep funds from reaching troops would be the president."
Horne, who ran unsuccessfully for a Kentucky congressional seat last year, added: "If the president vetoes this bill because he doesn't want to formally demonstrate progress in Iraq, never in the history of war would there be a more blatant example of a commander in chief undermining the troops," he said.
"There is absolutely no excuse for the president to withhold funding for the troops, and if he does exercise a veto, Congress must side with the troops and override it," he added.
In his radio address, Bush took aim at budget blueprints approved recently by the Democratic-led Congress.
The House plan promises a big surplus in five years by allowing tax cuts passed in the president's first term to expire.
It awards spending increases next year to both the Pentagon and domestic programs, but defers difficult decisions about unsustainable growth in federal benefit programs such as Medicare.
The Senate blueprint is similar but would not generate surpluses since it assumes lawmakers will renew the most popular of the tax cuts due to expire at the end of 2010.
Bush equates letting the cuts expire to a tax increase.
He said yesterday the blow would amount to nearly US$400 billion over five years -- what he said would be "the largest tax increase in our nation's history."
"Whether you have a family, work for a living, own a business or are simply struggling to get by on a low income, the Democrats want to raise your taxes," the president said. "With their budgets, the Democrats have revealed their true intentions."
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