The bill, which included $100 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is part of a bid by the Democratic Party to shift U.S. strategy in the unpopular Iraq conflict.
Hours before he was due to meet with members of Congress to try and work out a compromise war bill, Bush made it clear that he was in no mood to compromise. Speaking to a business group in Washington, Bush said the bill he was sent put political considerations ahead of the recommendations of military leaders.
The commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, General David Petraeus "reminded us that not all the reinforcements he'd requested have arrived, that it's going to be at least until the end of this summer that he will know whether or not the new strategy has achieved successes," Bush said. "That means the strategy is in early stages. My view is that Congress and the country ought to give General Petraeus time to see whether or not this works."
Under the legislation, which won the support of only four Republicans in Congress, U.S. troop withdrawals would have begun as early as July 1 and no later than October 1.
And there would have been a nonbinding goal of removing all combat troops by March 31, 2008.
But Bush's veto effectively kills the bill, as the Democrats don't have the necessary two-thirds majority in Congress to override the president's rejection. That means both parties will begin talks today, including meetings with Bush, in an effort to work out a compromise.
"I believe setting a deadline for withdrawal would demoralize the Iraqi people," Bush said.
In a nationally televised address on May 1, Bush explained his decision to reject the bill in only the second veto of his presidency.
"It makes no sense to tell the enemy when you plan to start withdrawing," Bush said. "All the terrorists would have to do is mark their calendars and gather their strength and begin plotting how to overthrow the government and take control of the country of Iraq."
"I believe setting a deadline for withdrawal would demoralize the Iraqi people, would encourage killers across the broader Middle East, and send a signal that America will not keep its commitments," he continued.
One of Bush's allies in opposing the bill is Australian Prime Minister John Howard, who said he agrees that setting a timetable for the withdrawal of coalition forces from Iraq is the wrong approach. Howard, whose country has 1,400 troops in Iraq, said a coalition withdrawal before Iraqi security forces are self-sufficient would plunge Iraq even deeper into "chaos."
Public support for withdrawal
Opinion polls show a majority of Americans favor some sort of U.S. military pullout from Iraq.
With those poll figures in mind, Democrat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (California) expressed her party's disappointment with Bush's action.
"I hoped that the president would have treated it with the respect that bipartisan legislation, supported overwhelmingly by the American people, deserved," Pelosi said. "Instead, the president vetoed the bill outright, and frankly misrepresented what this legislation does."
Both sides had draped the spending bill in symbolism.
Bush vetoed the bill with a pen given to him by the father of a Marine killed in Iraq.
Democratic congressional leaders had waited to present the legislation to Bush on the "Mission Accomplished" anniversary -- when Bush, aboard a U.S. Navy vessel, declared the end of "major combat operations" in Iraq back in 2003.
A television commercial paid for by Americans United For Change, a liberal advocacy group, made reference to the anniversary when it aired on May 1.
The commercial incorporates Bush's announcement that "Major combat operations in Iraq have ended." A narrator then responds to the claim, saying, "Four years later, there is no end in sight… And George Bush still won't face reality. Congress voted to start bringing our troops home, but the president vetoed the bill. He was wrong then, and he's wrong now. It's the will of one nation versus the stubbornness of one man. Mr. President, you can veto a bill but you can't veto the truth."
But now, lawmakers in both parties agree that a workable compromise is a huge challenge in the coming days or weeks.
Because Democrats control the House and Senate, the pressure is mainly on them to craft a bill that Bush will sign, and thus avoid accusations that they failed to finance troops in a time of war.
Many Democrats say a new spending bill must include so-called benchmarks for progress in Iraq. If not met, the benchmarks would force U.S. troops to leave the country -- or perhaps to redeploy to non-urban areas that see little sectarian violence.
Other possible compromises would require Bush to certify monthly that the Iraqi government is fully cooperating with U.S. efforts in several areas. These areas include giving troops authority to pursue extremists, or requiring an Iraqi-run program to disarm militias and a plan to distribute oil revenues fairly.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (Kentucky) told reporters on May 1 that his party will accept benchmarks. But he declined to say whether he would agree to binding consequences if such benchmarks go unmet.
THE COMPLETE STORY:
RFE/RL's complete coverage of events in Iraq and that country's ongoing transition.