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Despite Pledge, Compromise Eludes Congress, Bush

President Bush's veto Tuesday evening of the Iraq war-spending bill tied to a deadline for withdrawal, and Democratic leaders' insistence on an end to the war, shows bipartisanship remains elusive.

Democrats promised voters after last fall's elections that there would be better cooperation across the aisle.

But there's little evidence that bipartisanship ever lived in Congress.

Soon after the elections, congressional leaders and President Bush were on the spin.

"The American people want their leaders in Washington to set aside partisan differences, conduct ourselves in a civil matter," Mr. Bush said.

"Democrats pledge civility and bipartisanship in Congress," added House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California.

Added Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada: "We will need to work with our friends on the Republican side of the aisle to reach some consensus."

And this from House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio: "Republicans and Democrats can disagree without being disagreeable."

Tuesday's veto emphasizes that things are lot different several months later.

"A veto means denying our troops the resources and the strategy that they need. After more than four years of a failed policy it's time for Iraq to take responsibility for its own future," Reid said Tuesday at a bill-signing ceremony.

Republicans struck back. Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia called the Democrats' actions political theater.

"The Democrats are marking the 85th day they have held the emergency funding captive by holding an enrollment ceremony for a bill they know will be vetoed," said Cantor, chief deputy whip for the Republicans.

Both parties say their legislative work on the Iraq war is of the most solemn importance.

The problem, according to critics, is that they wield solemnity like a weapon rather than as a reason to come together and cooperate.

Earlier this week several Washington think-tanks got together to hold a kind of summit on bipartisanship. The Brookings Institution, American Enterprise Institute, and the University of Pennsylvania gathered scholars to dissect this thorny problem.

Thomas Mann of Brookings said the result depends on basic respect and civility.

"You have to be able to accept the legitimacy of the motives of those with whom you disagree, and you have to be willing to engage seriously in their arguments," Mann said, adding that there's little of that on Capitol Hill.

Boehner, who attended the conference, admitted that the wrangling over Iraq funding has proved to be a partisan stalemate.

"There is no debate. There is no conversation. We are talking past each other because we're talking about two completely different outcomes," he said.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Andrea Seabrook covers Capitol Hill as NPR's Congressional Correspondent.