Democrats warn Bush on troop 'surge'

Published: Tuesday, January 9, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 8, 2007 at 11:29 p.m.

WASHINGTON — In a blunt warning to the White House, congressional Democrats said Monday they may seek to deny funds for the type of short-term troop buildup that President Bush is expected to announce for Iraq Wednesday night.


Bush vs. Congress

  • MONEY FOR TROOPS: Congressional Democrats said Monday they may try to block funds for short-term troop buildup in Iraq.
  • BUSH SPEECH: The president is expected to call for an increase of about 20,000 troops in Iraq in an address to the nation at 9 p.m. Wednesday.
  • DEMOCRATS' IDEAS: One Democrat has suggested legislation to limit the number of troops, while others have discussed a nonbinding measure calling on Bush to withdraw troops. Few have talked about holding a fresh vote on authorizing the war.

As Democrats began their first full week in the congressional majority, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he would "look at everything" to wind down the war effort, short of cutting off support for troops already deployed.

He said Bush's expected call for an additional $100 billion for the war would receive close scrutiny.

"We have a platform we didn't have before, Leader Pelosi and I, and we're going to … focus attention on this war in many different ways," said Reid, D-Nevada. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., suggested over the weekend using Congress' power of the purse to restrain any troop buildup.

More than 3,000 U.S. troops have lost their lives in Iraq in a war nearing the end of its fourth year, and many Democrats attribute their success in last fall's elections to public opposition to the conflict.

The election results, combined with an assessment by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group that the situation in Iraq was "grave and deteriorating," coincided with Bush's effort to begin work on a revised policy.

He is expected to make a nationwide televised address on the issue on Wednesday. Several officials have said one leading option for Bush is a so-called "surge" in troop strength, in which about 20,000 troops would be added to the force already in place, in hopes that sectarian violence can be quelled.

The debate over the war has overshadowed the early days of the new Democratic-controlled Congress and a politically potent domestic agenda that leaders had planned.

The Senate began debate Monday on legislation to toughen ethics rules and crack down on lobbyists' influence. The bill is a response to what Democrats have called a Republican "culture of corruption." In the House, Democrats have already passed some ethics changes.

On security matters, they intend to begin work today on legislation to implement nearly all of the remaining recommendations of the commission that investigated the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. "If this bill is enacted, funded and implemented, the American people will be safer," said Lee Hamilton, who was a member of the commission.

That legislation carries no price tag, and the money to pay for the increased protections will have to be approved separately. At a news conference, Pelosi sidestepped when asked about the cost, saying that any increases in spending would be offset to make sure they did not increase the deficit.

Legislation that Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., proposed in the Senate last year would have implemented the 9-11 commission's recommendations at an estimated cost of $53.3 billion over five years.

Bush met with several members of Congress during the day, part of a series of meetings held in advance of announcing his new Iraq policy.

White House press secretary Tony Snow said the president "understands there is a lot of public anxiety" about the war. Yet he said that Americans "don't want another Sept. 11" type of terrorist attack and it is wiser to confront terrorists overseas in Iraq and other battlegrounds rather than in the United States.

As commander in chief, Bush has wide constitutional authority to direct the military. Congress' principal power lies in its ability to control federal funding.

Yet the Democratic takeover in Congress means that for the first time since the war began, persistent critics of the administration's policy are in control in both the House and Senate.

"We ought to insist that the Congress and the Senate take action, so that before we're going to have a surge (of troops), the members of Congress and the members of the Senate will have an opportunity to speak on this issue," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., who also attended a meeting with Bush on the war.

He noted that Congress could prohibit the money it authorizes for Iraq from being spent on a troop buildup. "It's something that's under discussion," said the Massachusetts Democrat.

Other alternatives have emerged in recent days, although several officials said Democratic leaders had not yet settled on a course of action.

Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Senate's second-ranking Democrat, has suggested a limit on the number of troops that could be deployed to the war. "It is time for us to announce we achieved our goals in Iraq and now the American people need to hand this responsibility over to the people of that nation in Iraq," he said.

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., a potential presidential candidate, said that while he opposes any measure that would increase the risk to troops already deployed, "the central question then becomes, is there a way of conditioning appropriations so that the president is constrained and that's something that we're investigating right now."

Other Democrats have discussed the possibility of forcing votes on nonbinding legislation calling on Bush to begin a troop withdrawal — the type of measure that served as a flashpoint in the election-year debate over the war.

In addition, Democrats intend to require senior administration officials to run a virtual gantlet of hearings at which the war policy could be explored in great detail — from the mission of the troops to alleged fraud in the use of funds to rebuild Iraq. Officials said a few Democrats have discussed holding a fresh vote on authorizing the war, which Congress approved before Bush dispatched troops more than four years ago.

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