Dead set against President Bush’s plan to inject a surge of American forces into Baghdad to quell increased sectarian violence, Democrats are crafting a way starve the mission of funding without appearing unsupportive of U.S. forces.
Led by Sen. Teddy Kennedy (D.-Mass.), Democrats may block an expected supplemental request from the White House asking for funding for continued operations in the region.
On January 9, a day before President Bush’s nationally televised speech announcing the surge plan, Kennedy appeared at the National Press Club to promote legislation that would cut funding for those new troops. “Our bill will say that no additional troops can be sent and no additional dollars can be spent on such escalation unless and until Congress approves the President’s plan,” he said. “Our proposal is a straightforward exercise of the power granted to Congress under Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution.”
Rep. Ed Markey (D.-Mass.) is expected to introduce similar legislation in the House. Rep. John Murtha (D.-Pa.), who sits on the Defense Appropriations Committee, told the Christian Science Monitor, “If we just pass resolutions, the President will veto them. If he vetoes an appropriations bill, he doesn’t have any money. It’s the only weapon we have.”
Kennedy said his legislation will require the President to obtain approval from Congress before sending more soldiers to Iraq and will prohibit tax dollars from funding them.
Insisting that this should not be taken as a signal Democrats are wavering in support of Americans stationed in Iraq, Kennedy said, “Our proposal will not diminish our support for the forces we already have in [Iraq]. We will continue to do everything we can to make sure they have all the support they truly need.”
But by January 10, 90 advance troops from the 82nd Airborne division were sent to Baghdad, making Kennedy’s proposal “disastrous,” according to outgoing House Armed Services Chairman Duncan Hunter (R.-Calif.), who said that if Democrats followed through with Kennedy’s plan, it would drain critical resources from American forces later this year.
Hunter, a 2008 GOP presidential hopeful, explained: “When you move troops, you typically take the money out of ready cash because you have to move them quickly to accommodate the exigencies of the war. That money was maybe going to be used for ammunition or training operations later in the year and you then restore it later with supplemental funding. If you don’t restore it, you end up losing the training exercises you were going to undertake that year and the ammunition you were going to buy later that year.”
“I’ve looked at Kennedy’s plan,” he said. “It’s disastrous either way. If you cut funding early enough to stop operations in the military theater, it has a disastrous effect on the mission. And if the Democrats move to cut off restorative funding, the Democrats are penalizing the readiness of our military in the next half of this year.”
Nonetheless, other Democrats have shown support for Kennedy’s plan. Before President Bush laid out his new policy, Sen. Barack Obama (D.-Ill.) stayed after a Tuesday press conference on ethics reform to tell reporters, “My office is investigating what tools are available to us, to condition or restrain appropriations” to withhold funding for the troop surge.
“Whether you can carve that out and say, ‘We are going to fund this but not additional troops,’ that’s not clear,” he said. “But those are the kinds of questions I think are being asked right now.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R.-S.C.) responded to Obama’s remarks in a press conference later that day. “I think it would be a monumental mistake if the Congress of the United States tries to micromanage this war,” he said. “Any effort by Congress to control troop levels and cut off funding for those in harm’s way, I think, would run against the advice of the new military leadership on the ground.”
“One thing I know for sure is that you’ll never win any war with 535 commanders in chief,” said Graham.
Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry (D.) echoed Obama’s line two days later. On an MSNBC appearance on January 11 he told Andrea Mitchell, “We are not going to cut off money for those that are there today, but we will try to prohibit the spending of money on additional troops because we think it’s wrong.”
Sen. Russ Feingold (D.-Wis.) vowed to cut money in order to move troops out of Iraq. “I’ll be working on a proposal with other members as we go through these hearings in the next couple weeks, figuring out the best way to go about using the power of the purse to make sure that this redeployment occurs.”
In response to the Democrats’ rumblings about withholding money, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) vowed to filibuster any legislation that would obstruct the new troops. “Congress is completely incapable of dictating the tactics of the war,” he said.