(ORLIN WAGNER ~ Associated Press)
"Some members of Congress, in an effort to undermine the mission in Iraq, have decided to stop supporting the soldiers themselves," Cheney told a gathering of military personnel at the National World War I Museum. The audience of about 200 included members of the Kansas City-based Veterans of Foreign Wars.
"It is not the business of the United States Congress to micromanage military strategy," Cheney said. "We simply cannot afford a situation in which the commander in chief sends in forces with a clear mission, and then Congress steps in to tie the hands of our commanders in the field."
The Bush administration has blamed Democrats for failing to pass his latest war funding request and trying to condition additional money on a timetable for withdrawing troops from Iraq.
"I don't need to explain to members of the VFW that some things are more important than politics," Cheney said.
Senate Democrats have proposed a $50 billion measure that would pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but contains a nonbinding goal for most troops to come home by Dec. 15, 2008.
If Congress does not pass a war spending bill this year, the military has planned for cutbacks and layoffs of civilian employees to begin as early as January.
"Congress's approach to war funding has been irresponsible," Cheney said. Its "response to the President's request has been to withhold the money altogether. Instead of taking sensible action, all year long some Congressional leaders have issued one threat after another to de-fund the Iraq mission entirely.
"Or to mandate an immediate pullout of American forces, regardless of conditions in the field," Cheney said to the invitation-only audience that also included troops from Fort Leavenworth, Kan., two Medal of Honor winners and a survivor of the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said President Bush may not get precisely what he wants in a war funding package.
"When it comes to the military and their families, everyone should be willing to compromise, including the President," McCaskill said in e-mailed comments about Cheney's speech.
"I continue to take a principled position that we should provide what our service men and women at war need, and I'm optimistic that we will do what is necessary," McCaskill said. "The fact is that the military assured Congress that they will have plenty of money through the middle of February."
Cheney said Defense Secretary Robert Gates has told the Army and Marine Corps to draw up plans to lay off civilian employees, to terminate contracts and to prepare military bases for reduced operations.
"These are contingency steps forced on the Pentagon by a Congressional delay that is now in its eleventh month," Cheney said in the 20-minute speech, which also touched on the Bush administration's counterterrorism tactics and the administration's call for making the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, permanent.
Bush wants a permanent rewrite of FISA, contending that changes in telecommunications technology have made the law an obstacle to intelligence-gathering. FISA requires the government to obtain court approval before conducting electronic surveillance on U.S. soil, even if the target is a foreign citizen in a foreign country. However, many purely international communications are now routed through fiber optics cables in the U.S.
The White House wants authority to monitor foreign communications with Americans without first getting court approval, as long as the American is not the intended target of surveillance.
"In August, Congress passed legislation to help modernize FISA," Cheney said. "The only problem is that the new law expires on February 1st. There's no point in putting a sunset provision on such vital legislation."