Pelosi Vows 'No Blank Check' on Iraq War

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi vowed Sunday that the new Democratic-controlled Congress will not give President Bush a blank check to send more troops to Iraq. But even some of Pelosi's colleagues doubt how much power she has to affect the way Mr. Bush conducts of the war.

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the new Democratic-controlled Congress will not give President Bush a blank check to send more troops to Iraq, but some of her colleagues question just how much lawmakers can do to thwart the Commander in Chief.

NPR's Allison Keyes reports.

ALLISON KEYES: Mr. Bush must be ready to explain any request for more funding for the war, Speaker Pelosi told CBS's "Face the Nation."

Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California): If the president wants to add to this mission, he is going to have to justify it. And this is new for him, because up until now the Republican Congress has given him a blank check with no oversight, no standards, no conditions.

KEYES: Pelosi says Congress wouldn't cut off funding for the war entirely, but she wouldn't say whether it would refuse to approve any more money to expand the size of the force there. She also declined to say whether there might be an effort to authorize war spending on a case by case basis or whether Congress would simply pass a resolution expressing its desires.

Pelosi says lawmakers are expecting a supplemental budget request from President Bush next week.

Rep. PELOSI: So when the bill comes as supplemental, as you say (unintelligible), it will receive the harshest scrutiny. What do we really need to protect our troops? What is there for an escalation? What is the justification for that?

KEYES: But even some of Pelosi's Democratic colleagues question how much Congress could really do to stop the president from doing what he wants.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Joe Biden spoke to NBC's "Meet the Press."

Senator JOSEPH BIDEN (Democrat, Delaware): He's commander in chief. If he surges another 20, 30 or whatever number he's going to into Baghdad, it will be a tragic mistake in my view, but as a practical matter there's no way to say, Mr. President, stop.

KEYES: Biden also doesn't think legislation capping the number of troops sent to Iraq would work.

Sen. BIDEN: I think it is unconstitutional to say, we're going to tell you you can go, but we're going to micro-manage the war.

When we wrote the Constitution, the intention was to give the commander in chief the authority how to use the forces when you authorize him to be able to use the forces.

KEYES: At the Washington-based conservative think tank, American Enterprise Institute, Danielle Pletka agrees there could be constitutional issues if Congress tried to tell the president how to fight the war.

Ms. DANIELLE PLETKA (American Enterprise Institute): In theory, the Congress could say no. This has not happened in the past on a scale of the kind that Mrs. Pelosi may be hinting at.

KEYES: Pletka, AEI's VP for foreign and defense policy studies, emphasizes that any measure to de-fund the war would have to pass both the House and the Senate, and she thinks it's unlikely such legislation would clear the Senate, where the Democrats have a slim 51 to 49 majority.

Ms. PLETKA: What Congress really has here is leverage. They can use it with wisdom. They can fine tune. It is really a scalpel, not a bludgeon.

KEYES: The White House did not return a call from NPR for comment.

Allison Keyes, NPR News. Washington.

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