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Iraq Transition

Bush: Clock ticking on funding for war troops

Story Highlights

Senate Majority Leader Reid says Bush being dishonest about war funding
Democrats dubious of Bush's message of urgency
• Bush: No war funds by mid-May will curtail training for active-duty forces
• Sens. Harry Reid, Russ Feingold sponsoring bill to end most war funding in 2008
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush warned Congress Tuesday that failing to send him an acceptable Iraq war funding bill soon is irresponsible and will threaten U.S. military equipment and training.

The president's stern warnings during a White House news conference targeted Democratic leaders controlling Capitol Hill who have included timetables for troop withdrawals in their funding legislation.

"If Congress fails to pass a bill that I can sign by mid-April, the Army will be forced to consider cutting back on equipment, equipment repair and quality of life initiatives for our Guard and Reserve forces," Bush said. (Watch Bush accuse Congress of debating bills that "undercut the troops" Video)

By mid-May, if a funding bill is not signed into law, Bush said the problems "grow even more acute," including "curtailing of training for active-duty forces."

Bush reminded Congress, which is on spring recess until April 16, that it has been 57 days since he first requested war funds.

"I've made it clear for weeks that if either the House or Senate version of this bill comes to my desk, I will veto it," the president said.

"And they need to come off their vacation, get a bill to my desk."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters in Nevada that the president is not being honest.

"The president's misleading the American people," he said. "The troops aren't about to run out of money." (Watch Reid say how Bush now must deal with Congress Video)

Reid pointed to a recent report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, which says current U.S. war funds will not run out until mid-July.

Last week, the Senate passed a $123 billion Iraq spending measure that recommends a final withdrawal of all troops by March 31, 2008, and mandates that troops begin redeployment within four months of the bill's passage.

Despite the recess, congressional negotiators are trying to reconcile that bill with a House version calling for an August withdrawal.

House and Senate appropriations committee staffers of Democratic Reps. David Obey of Wisconsin, John Murtha of Pennsylvania and Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia are beginning to work through the differences, said a senior Democratic aide who's close to negotiations.

"The timeline will be one of the last things that will get decided," the aide said.

"It was really hard to get this bill passed the first time," said the aide. "If that shifts, it's going to be very difficult to pass it through the House again."

The aide expressed concern about the likelihood of agreement on "language strong enough to appeal to the left, but gives enough flexibility to appeal to the right."

Reid and Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold, who's one of the Democrats' most outspoken war critics, are sponsoring another bill that could be considered after a Bush veto. It would end most war funding after March 31, 2008.

The Reid-Feingold legislation would permit spending in only three areas: fighting al Qaeda, training Iraqis and protecting the U.S. Embassy and personnel.

Democrats reject Bush's timeline

During his Rose Garden remarks, Bush said it would be "irresponsible" for the Democratic leadership in Congress "to delay for months on end while our troops in combat are waiting for the funds."

Delay "will mean that some of our military families could wait longer for their loved ones to return from the front lines, and others could see their loved ones headed back to the war sooner than they need to," said the president.

But congressional Democrats aren't buying Bush's argument that the supplemental spending bill must reach his desk by mid-April to avoid hurting the troops.

Last year, when Republicans controlled Congress, Bush didn't sign a war funding bill into law until mid-June, opponents point out. They also say that if the president felt so urgently about the current funding, he would have sent his request to Congress earlier than February.

On Monday, Reid spokesman Jim Manley called the funding fight "an uphill battle, but it's the next step in a series of things to try and change the president's policy in Iraq." (Watch how the political chess match between Congress and the White House is being played out Video)

Bush ventured into sarcasm about the political battle Tuesday, saying, "If Democrat leaders in Congress are bent on making a political statement, then they need to send me this unacceptable bill as quickly as possible when they come back. I'll veto it, and then Congress can get down to the business of funding our troops without strings and without delay."

'Fairy tales and rose-colored glasses'

Following the president's remarks, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel of Illinois accused Bush of pursuing "an Iraq policy based on fairy tales and rose-colored glasses."

"A majority of both the House and Senate have voted to change it. The president should join us," Emanuel's statement said.

Bush said Congress is failing its "most basic responsibility" to "give our troops the equipment and training they need to fight our enemies and protect our nation."

He said that if lawmakers "do not change course in the coming weeks, the price of that failure will be paid by our troops and their loved ones."

A spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, sharply disagreed with the president, saying that Congress has responded to the troops' needs and that the president needs to end his confrontation tactics and stop blaming Congress "for doing its job."

"The speaker has repeatedly encouraged the president to come to the table and work with the Congress," Brendan Daly, Pelosi's spokesman, said in a written statement. "The security of our nation and welfare of our men and women in uniform requires it."

CNN's Ed Henry, Deirdre Walsh and Andrea Koppel contributed to this report.

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President Bush urged Congress to send him a war funding bill that does not include a timetable for withdrawal.

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