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Dems weigh options in responding to Bush Iraq plan
San Francisco Chronicle


January 10, 2007

WASHINGTON -- Democrats in Congress almost universally oppose President Bush's plan to escalate troop levels in Iraq. The question is what they will do to stop it.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., introduced a measure Tuesday that would require congressional approval for Bush to increase the number of U.S. troops, which is now 130,000 to 140,000. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California suggested over the weekend that the House might refuse to approve those portions of the Pentagon's budget that were directly tied to increasing the number of troops in Iraq.

Yet most Democrats appeared to be settling on a more cautious route, seeking a way to oppose an escalation without looking like they are abandoning the troops, let alone taking ownership of a war that has been a political disaster for Republicans.

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada pledged to force a vote on a nonbinding resolution that would put lawmakers on record without taking over the commander in chief's authority to wage war. Reid said the measure would be introduced next week, though probably not debated until the end of the month.

"It would seem to me if there is a bipartisan resolution saying we don't support this escalation of war, that the president is going to have to take note of that," Reid said, contending at least nine Republican senators oppose a troop increase.

Asked whether Congress should curtail funds for more troops, Reid said: "We are going to look at all avenues to the president's escalation. There is no one, two, three (or) four" approaches.

Pelosi also pledged to hold a vote in the House on the troop increase, though her office did not detail the legislation.

"This is reminding me more of Vietnam every day," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.

Boxer, who supports Kennedy's approach, said Bush "hasn't listened to the people in the election. He hasn't listened to the Iraq Study Group. He hasn't listened to every commander who was on the ground (in Iraq) in November. He's not listening to anybody."

At news conferences, in conversations in the halls of Congress and in e-mails, Democrats were anxious to show their opposition to what the president was expected to propose Wednesday night. Yet they repeatedly mentioned the president's constitutional power to wage war and stated their reluctance to try to contest his authority by cutting the Pentagon's war budget.

"I don't know of any senator who would cut off funds for troops in the field," Boxer said.

Pelosi's suggestion that money for a troop increase might be withheld from the Pentagon's budget elicited an unenthusiastic response from Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

"I don't believe that's exactly what Speaker Pelosi said," Skelton responded curtly when asked whether there was an appetite in the House for such a move.

Skelton, a 30-year veteran of the House, said attaching limits to spending bills "can be done," but expressed a preference for "oversight hearings to ask difficult questions, tough questions of people within the administration."

Some Republicans tried to seize on the statements as a sign of Democratic discord.

"The Democrats are going to have to make a choice here. ... No. 1, do you want Iraq to succeed," White House spokesman Tony Snow said.

Yet the positions of these Democrats, and scores of others who spoke out in advance of Bush's speech, were mostly consistent. Nearly each expressed disappointment with the direction of the war and opposition to sending more troops. The differences seemed to reflect a narrower difference over the most effective way to confront Bush.

Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he opposes the troop increase, but doesn't believe Congress has the authority to end the war by cutting the Pentagon's war budget, a notion disputed by some constitutional scholars.

In fact, other lawmakers including Kennedy suggested that Bush may have already overstepped the authority Congress granted him in October 2002, when the House and the Senate voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said the time has come to revise the resolution "and set some timelines and parameters" to the authority given to the president four years ago.

Feinstein did not say whether she supported Kennedy's legislation, but added that she opposes "a military escalation of what is civil insurrection and war. I do not believe that the sectarian killing can be stopped by military action, but rather only by the actions of the Iraqi leadership and government."


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