How Congress may block a troop 'surge'
The House has the power to trim funds for the Iraq war, but it's a politically risky move.
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On the House side, Rep. Edward Markey (D) of Massachusetts is proposing a similar resolution to require Congress to expressly authorize any escalation of the war in Iraq. "After more than 3,000 American casualties, over $300 billion in expenditures, and almost four years of fighting, an increase in the number of members of the US Armed Forces deployed in Iraq above the current level of 132,000 is the wrong course of action," he says.Skip to next paragraph
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Representative Murtha worries that if Democrats settle for a quick, symbolic gesture, they could curb momentum for stronger action on the spending side. Should the president veto the Kennedy resolution, or another like it, it would require a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate to override the veto. "It's not clear we have it," he says.
On Wednesday, Democrats discussed these options in their morning caucus meeting but did not settle on a strategy. "We're going to make a judgment on the best way to present our position on the escalation of the war in Iraq, which our own military does not support," said House majority leader Steny Hoyer, on Wednesday. After a meeting with his caucus on Tuesday, Senate majority leader Harry Reid says that Democrats are working toward "a bipartisan statement on the president's escalation." He expects at least nine Republicans to support it.
For most Democrats, cutting off funds in wartime is still a near taboo topic because it carries a high political risk of appearing to endanger troops in the field.
"I don't know why we have members of Congress out there who say there's nothing constitutional that Congress can do. Politically, they may feel like it's crazy to do anything restricting money supporting troops, but constitutionally they can do what they like and they've done it in the past," says Louis Fisher, an expert in separation of powers at the Library of Congress.
"Congress can attach any condition to any appropriation it pleases," says Winslow Wheeler, director of Straus Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information in Washington. "If they want to say none of the appropriations in the supplemental can be used to keep troops beyond their normal deployment period or to send additional troops, sobeit. The president can disregard this at his own peril."
But it requires careful work to draft constraints into legislation without loopholes. President Nixon circumvented an amendment banning funding for combat troops in Laos by describing the forces as "military equipment delivery teams – end use supervisors."
"Congress can urge, propose, recommend, but it's very hard to legislate when it comes to troop deployments," says Charles Stevenson, author of the book "Warriors and Politicians." "They didn't try to [cut funds for aerial bombing] earlier in the Vietnam War, because they didn't think they had the two-thirds to override a veto."
Military experts say that Congress has other levers on the president, including new legislation on the use of reservists.