Democrats May Tighten Pursestrings on Iraq

President Bush will speak to the nation Wednesday night about his plans for how to proceed in the Iraq war. Central to his strategy is an expected increase in the overall level of U.S. forces in Iraq. On Capitol Hill, the ruling Democrats and some Republicans as well oppose such an escalation.

Ike Skelton, the new Democratic chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, signaled a surge in troops would meet resistance on his panel. Skelton declared the United States should be redeploying troops from Iraq rather than adding more:

"Well, this last summer there was a troop increase," Skelton says. "You will recall that really did no good in my opinion whatsoever, and I think other military leaders will tell you that."

Still, Democrats acknowledge that pulling the pursestrings tight on war funding could be difficult. Barack Obama is an Illinois Democrat who's on the Senate Foreign Relations panel:

"If in fact there's an escalation," Obama says, "it will have more to do with keeping troops who are already there longer, accelerating rotations that were already going to take place." And that, he said, could make it difficult for Congress to affect troop levels with funding.

President Bush does have some strong, if limited, support in Congress for a troop increase in Iraq. South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham says that any effort by Congress to cut off funding for additional troops would be a "monumental mistake."

"Any effort by Congress to control troop levels or cut off funding for those in harm's way," Graham said, "would run against the advice of the new military leadership on the ground."

Even Oregon Republican Sen. Gordon Smith, who shocked colleagues last month by questioning the entire U.S. role in Iraq, was leery of cutting off war funding.

"My own sense is that it would be dishonorable to budget away their bullets when they're ordered to remain in place, and that's the problem," Smith said.

But Dick Durbin, the Senate's No. 2 Democrat, said the biggest question is what the so-called troop surge is all about.

"The administration carefully has used the word 'surge' to suggest this is somehow temporary," Durbin said. "But we have to listen carefully when the president makes his announcement, to see just how temporary it might be."

Durbin said rather than sending more troops to Iraq, it was time for the U.S. to announce it has achieved its goals there, and hand the responsibility for security over to the people of Iraq.

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