Congress Not Likely to Hold Up War Funds
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And I'm Steve Inskeep.
Tonight is the night that President Bush explains a new course for Iraq. One item up for debate is how new that course will really be. The president is expected to increase U.S. troop levels by as many as 20,000. The U.S. military has adjusted troop levels at key moments in the past. The president will be seeking public support for the war in the face of a challenge from some of the Democrats who control Congress.
Here's NPR's Brian Naylor.
BRIAN NAYLOR: Democratic leaders have long been saying they intend to use the tool of oversight to require President Bush to justify his policies in Iraq and all but ruled out exercising their power of the purse to block funding for the war, but that approach is now being openly challenged by anti-war Democrats led by Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy. He outlined his proposal at a speech at the National Press Club yesterday.
Senator EDWARD KENNEDY (Democrat, Massachusetts): Our bill will say that no additional troops can be sent and no additional dollars can be spent on such an escalation unless and until Congress approves the president's plan.
NAYLOR: Another prominent anti-war Democrat, Congressman John Murtha of Pennsylvania, told The Wall Street Journal he's considering a similar course of action, possibly limiting the use of new funds for the deployment of Army troops in Iraq to a year. Murtha, who chairs the powerful Defense Appropriations Subcommittee in the House, is in a position to implement such a plan. The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, told reporters yesterday that Kennedy's proposal was an idea that will be looked at, but indicated Democrats would prefer a bipartisan course of action.
Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada; Senate Majority Leader): What we're going to work toward, if the speech is as we think it's going to be, is a bipartisan statement on the president's escalation. And we believe that there are a number of Republicans who will join with us to say no to escalation.
NAYLOR: There are any number of Senate Republicans, including Maine's Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe and Gordon Smith of Oregon, who have expressed skepticism about a surge in troop levels. The Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, however, is not one of them. He says the president's plan will give the Iraqi government a chance to succeed and doubts Congress is capable of using the purse strings to influence military policy.
Senator MITCH MCCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky; Senate Minority Leader) I think it is inappropriate for the Congress to try to micromanage in effect the tactics in a military conflict. I don't think Congress has the authority to do it; I don't think it would be good at it. You can't run a war by a committee of, you know, 435 in the House and 100 in the Senate.
NAYLOR: However, advocates note Congress has set caps on troop levels several times in recent conflicts, including in Vietnam and Lebanon. In his interview with The Wall Street Journal, Pennsylvania Democrat Murtha anticipated McConnell's statement about Congress micromanaging the Defense Department, saying, quote, “they need to be micromanaged.”
Democrats begin their oversight of Iraq policy tomorrow when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates are scheduled to testify before Senate and House committees.
Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol.
INSKEEP: Here's one prediction for what may happen or not happen in Congress. NPR's senior Washington editor Ron Elving says internal divisions are likely to keep Democrats from blocking the president's troop plan. And you can read Elving's “Watching Washington” column at npr.org.
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