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Friday, January 19, 2007

Partisan collision nears on Iraq plan

Partisan collision nears on Iraq plan
Showdown expected with Senate resolution
By Mark Silva, Washington Bureau; Christi Parsons of the Washington Bureau contributedPublished January 19, 2007
WASHINGTON -- President Bush's confrontation with the Democratic-controlled Congress over Iraq is likely to worsen in coming months as Democrats pursue caps on troop levels and legislation denying funds for escalating the conflict while demanding that Iraq curb its sectarian violence.
The showdown will probably start with a non-binding resolution from the Senate opposing the increased deployment of troops Bush has ordered into Baghdad and Anbar province in western Iraq. Though billed as a bipartisan protest, few Republicans may enlist in it.

And Democrats are likely to challenge the president's assertions of executive authority in the name of fighting terrorism.
Already, the Bush administration has agreed to submit its disputed secret, warrantless surveillance of domestic telephone calls and e-mails in suspected communications with terrorists abroad to the oversight of a special federal court--a sharp reversal from its earlier position that the White House could operate the program without court orders.
The conflicts are unfolding as Bush prepares for his State of the Union address Tuesday. One of the Democrats' most outspoken war critics--Sen. James Webb of Virginia, a Vietnam veteran and former Navy secretary in the Reagan administration--will deliver the party's response.
Webb's spokesman, Jessica Smith, said: "A good part of it will obviously be about Iraq and the direction we are headed."
With opinion polls registering opposition at a ratio of 2-1 to the president's plan for more U.S. troops in Iraq, many Democrats now are looking well beyond the mere symbolism of a non-binding resolution and proposing ways to gain more control over war spending.

What's the alternative?
"Simply opposing the surge is not good enough," Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) said on the Senate floor Thursday, proposing a cap on U.S. troops in Iraq at their level of Jan. 10, the day Bush announced his new war strategy. Obama also has called for a phased withdrawal of troops to place pressure on the Iraqis to police their country.
Yet Republican leaders complain that Democrats, lacking any real alternative to the president's strategy, are engaging in a hollow political exercise.
"A non-binding resolution is just more empty political rhetoric," said House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), maintaining that he is devoting no effort toward blocking the resolution.
"If they're opposed to the president's plan, then they should step up and take real action opposing the president's plan," he said "And if they don't like the president's plan, what's their plan?"
Bush, echoing the call for Democrats to propose a suitable alternative in Iraq, says troops already "are on their way in" to Baghdad.
In an interview Thursday with Tribune Broadcasting, Bush said: "People who are condemning a plan, a new plan that hasn't had a chance to work, have a responsibility to present ideas that they think will work, and I'm still listening for those ideas."
Nonetheless, the White House has moved swiftly to parry congressional criticism while adjusting such policies as the National Security Agency's warrantless wiretapping. "The White House has been gaming the system for six years," said Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University who has challenged in court how the government obtained evidence against a convicted terrorist. "They were able to shut down Congress and slow down the courts. They know now that that strategy is running its course."

Campaign ambitions
On the congressional track, an array of proposals to curtail funding for the war are coming from senators with 2008 presidential campaign ambitions.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) has called for a troop cap matching the number deployed at the start of the year, about 132,000, and Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) is seeking a restriction against funding for any new deployment. Obama, exploring his own '08 candidacy, has not committed to a plan to block funding but says he is examining the plans of Dodd and Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), among others.
Yet, as the president proceeds with a deployment of 21,500 additional troops--which the White House says can be supported with existing war funding for now--it will take time to build support for any congressional exercise of the power of the purse in the war.
"The president is pursuing this strategy," Clinton said. "It is under way. Troops are being deployed as we speak . . . . And there is very little chance in the short run that we are going to pass any legislation. But it does lay down some markers."

continue >> While some question the value of any non-binding resolution, others say Bush will be hard-pressed to ignore an expression of congressional opposition at a time when the public, too, opposes his war strategy.

A Senate Foreign Relations Committee vote is expected next week, with the full Senate prepared to vote the following week, and then the House, on a resolution stating that "it is not in the national interest of the United States to deepen its military involvement in Iraq."
Democrats are trying to bring Republican senators into the resolution--with war critic Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) already a co-sponsor and Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) supporting the cause.
"If there is a bipartisan vote on it, I think it's very significant," said Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.). "If the United States Senate and a majority goes on record as opposing a policy of the president, it'll help crystallize thoughts in the country and it will have an impact. And, if he proceeds forward, he clearly does it on his own."
Bush faces broad public opposition to his deployment of new forces, according to opinion polls. Sixty-one percent of those surveyed by the Pew Research Center from Jan. 11-15 said they oppose Bush's plan, and 31 percent said they support it.
The White House, working to contain the size of any vote for the war resolution, maintains the president's plan is "absolutely a matter of national interest," spokesman Tony Snow said Thursday.
The White House is putting pressure on Republican senators, lobbying senators "skeptical" of the president's war plan, such as Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota.
"I am not prepared to support putting more American lives on the line before the Iraqis make a commitment to do what has to be done to lessen sectarian violence," Coleman said after a midweek White House meeting with Bush.
The White House counteroffensive could be making small gains, with Coleman now torn between opposition to the troop increase and reservations about the congressional resolution.
Coleman "believes some of [the resolution's] language is over-reaching," a spokesman said Thursday.
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