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Bush clashes with Democrats on war funding

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  • Top House Democrat wants less "complaining," more compromise from Bush
  • Bush says he'll "stand strong for certain principles" on war funding
  • Clock ticking on extending funds for Iraq, Afghan wars, Bush says
  • Bush talks about Saudi rape victim, Hugo Chavez, '08 campaign
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush clashed with Democrats Tuesday over his demands for Congress to pass war funding legislation before lawmakers take a holiday recess.

Bush on Tuesday called on Congress to pass funding for the Iraq and Afghan wars before the holiday recess.

Bush said House and Senate Democrats "need to work out their differences before they come to the White House," and he threatened to veto any bill laden with "wasteful spending."

Shortly afterward, House Democratic caucus chairman Rep. Rahm Emanuel called Bush's news conference the "19th press conference where he was pointing fingers at Congress. I think if we did a little more cooperation, a little more compromise, and a lot less confrontation, a lot less complaining, you'll see a lot more things get done for the American people."

The Illinois lawmaker congratulated U.S. troops for their service in Iraq, but said what's missing is a U.S. strategy for allowing Iraq to "stop relying on our troops to do for them what they need to do for themselves."

A $50 billion war spending bill, which would have required U.S. troops to begin leaving Iraq within 30 days, passed the House of Representatives but stalled in the Senate -- with Republicans balking at the withdrawal provision. Video Watch Emanuel and Bush on the funding delay »

Congress should fund troops "without telling our military how to conduct this war," Bush said. "You know, arbitrary dates for withdrawal are unacceptable, particularly given the fact that the strategy is working." Insurgent violence and U.S. casualties in Iraq have declined since the president ordered a troop increase this year.

Bush said Congress was poised to pile all its pending spending bills into a single, "monstrous piece of legislation which they will load up with billions of dollars in earmarks and wasteful spending."

Bush said he hoped he and Democrats are "capable of, you know, working together. But if not, I'm going to stand strong for certain principles."

Voicing his disagreement, Rep. David Obey, a Wisconsin Democrat and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said in a statement that "the impression the president is trying to leave on the remaining appropriations bills is as misleading as the impression he was leaving on Iran's nuclear weapons plans."

Bush's approval rating in opinion polls has been consistently below 40 percent for more than a year, and has been below 50 percent for 31 consecutive months -- longer than any president since Harry Truman.

The latest CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll -- taken November 2 and 4 -- said 34 percent of respondents approved of the way Bush is handling his job as president. The sampling error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Congress' approval in opinion polls has been mired in the middle to low 20s for the past year. But approval for congressional Democrats is higher -- the latest CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll, taken October 12-14, found 43 percent approval for House and Senate Democrats. The sampling error was plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

For weeks, Bush has criticized lawmakers for failing to send him legislation that would extend Defense Department funding for U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has said the delay would eventually force the layoffs of 100,000 civilian Defense Department workers.

The Army will run out of operations and maintenance money if such legislation isn't passed by February, Bush has said, and the Marines would run out of money by March.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, the top Senate Democrat described Bush's arguments Monday as "all hype" and said the Pentagon could ease a financial pinch by shifting funds.

During Bush's news conference, the president also discussed issues as varied as taxes, Iran's nuclear program and the rape and punishment of a woman in Saudi Arabia.

  • Reporters asked Bush about the 2008 campaign for president, specifically on the issue of immigration. "You and your august colleagues will try to get me to be pundit in chief," Bush joked. "And unfortunately, I practiced some punditry in the past. I'm not going to any further."
  • On Monday's loss by Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez at the ballot box, Bush said, "The Venezuelan people rejected one-man rule. They voted for democracy." Bush said Congress can reduce Venezuela's influence by passing a free-trade agreement with Colombia.

  • On taxes, the president said Congress needs to act immediately to prevent the alternative minimum tax from affecting more Americans this year. Calling the AMT a burden on middle-class families, Bush said failing to pass a temporary fix by year's end "could delay the delivery of about $75 billion worth of tax refund checks." The AMT wasn't indexed for inflation when created in 1969, Bush has said. As time has passed and incomes have increased, the tax has affected more middle-class Americans.
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  • On international tensions over Iran's alleged nuclear weapons program, Bush said a new intelligence report is a warning signal that Iran's program could be "restarted." The U.S. National Intelligence Estimate found that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in the fall of 2003 -- which is starkly different from a previous intelligence estimate that said Tehran was bent on developing nuclear weapons. Bush said U.S. policy toward Iran would not change. Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware called it "outrageous" that Bush had "knowingly" disregarded or misrepresented intelligence. "This is ... exactly what he did in the run-up to the war in Iraq, in consistently exaggerating the intelligence," said Biden, who's also a candidate for president. Video Watch Bush explain what the new Iran report means »
  • Bush commented on the case of a 19-year-old Saudi Arabian woman who was gang-raped and then punished by a Saudi court which sentenced her to 200 lashes and six months in prison. "I'd have been angry at those who committed the crime," the president said. "And I would be angry at the state that didn't support the victim. Although Bush said he didn't remember if he has discussed the case with Saudi King Abdullah, the monarch "knows our position loud and clear."
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