||WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrats in the U.S. Congress, flexing their muscles after only three months in power, predicted on Wednesday President George W. Bush will have to accept new limits on the war if he wants the money to wage it.
On a day that saw the Senate make further progress on a war-funding bill with a March 31, 2008 goal for withdrawing troops, a combative Bush again threatened to veto any legislation setting a timetable for ending the war.
That prompted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, to remind Bush, "Calm down with the threat. There is a new Congress in town."
That political reality has not been lost on some of Bush's fellow Republicans in Congress either.
Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, a Missouri Republican who serves on the House Appropriations Committee that oversees war spending, told Reuters, "We know he's (Bush) not going to accept a definite timetable" for withdrawing troops from Iraq.
But she added that the White House "should start talking" with Democratic leaders on a compromise, adding, "You don't have to give an exact date for doing anything."
Rep. Jeff Flake, a fiscal conservative Republican from Arizona, predicted, "The president is going to have to be somewhere in the middle" on accepting new war conditions.
Later in the day, Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada made public a letter they wrote Bush saying, "This is the time to sit down and work together" on the bill.
RUNNING OUT OF MONEY
The Pentagon says it needs about $100 billion in April or risks running out of money for fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That money would last about six months.
Rep. John Murtha, the Pennsylvania Democrat who in 2005 called for an end to the U.S.-led war, says military brass tell him that June 1 is the real deadline for providing the money.
If so, that could leave another two months for Congress and the White House to haggle over conditions that could be attached to the money, with the possibility of a couple of vetoes in the meantime.
For now, Bush is showing no sign of opening the door to negotiations with Congress on ending the war.
Referring to Democrats, he said, "Now, some of them believe that by delaying funding for our troops, they can force me to accept restrictions on our commanders that I believe would make withdrawal and defeat more likely. That's not going to happen."
Bush warned, "If Congress fails to pass a bill to fund our troops on the front lines, the American people will know who to hold responsible."
But with public support waning for the war, Democrats are confident they can continue pressing Bush to agree to some sort of deadline for withdrawing most of the 140,000 troops in Iraq.
"The parameters are now there" for a compromise, said Rep. James Moran, a Virginia Democrat. He was referring to the Senate's March 31, 2008 "goal" for withdrawing troops and the House's tougher, mandatory September 1, 2008 deadline.
Moran also said that conservative and moderate Democrats who voted for the House timetable have been surprised how supportive their constituents have been.
Moran dismissed ideas that House liberals, who want an immediate end to the war, might abandon Pelosi if the House-passed timetable is further weakened. "Once you're in waist-deep, you might as well stay in," he said.
For swing voters, like Sen. Ben Nelson, a Nebraska Democrat, timetables for withdrawal are less important than requiring Iraq's government to meet "benchmarks" for securing the country, treating Sunni minorities fairly and distributing oil revenues equitably.
Nelson also wants aid to Nebraska's farmers to be delivered in this war-spending bill, which Bush also opposes.
As for whether Bush and Democrats can come together, Nelson said, "It may be a bridge too far, but I hope not."
(Additional reporting by Steve Holland, Thomas Ferraro and Susan Cornwell)
© Reuters 2006