Democrats Move to Counter Bush Surge
"This legislation does what the administration has refused to do - namely, recognize the situation on the ground for what it is, an occupation and a civil war," said Congresswoman Lee. "The president insists on appealing to patriotic sentiments and fear with talk about victory and defeat in Iraq, but the truth is that you cannot win an occupation, any more than the US can win an Iraqi civil war. The longer we stay there, the worse it gets."
In a prime-time televised speech to the nation last Wednesday, President Bush outlined details of a long-awaited plan to stabilize the violence between Sunni and Shiite factions in Iraq that has turned the nearly four-year-old invasion into a bloody civil war.
President Bush's proposal would require tens of billions of dollars to continue funding the war. His announcement immediately met with bipartisan opposition. Since then, Democrats, with the backing of some their Republican colleagues, have submitted a number of different proposals to withdraw US troops.
Last week, Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich unveiled his Plan for Iraq, which calls for the withdrawal of all US forces and the closure of US military bases.
Kucinich, a 2008 presidential candidate, also called for the removal of all US contractors, saying their operations have been "rife with world-class corruption."
Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) also introduced legislation last week requiring the president to obtain the authorization from Congress before moving forward with a troop increase.
Kennedy said a vote on his legislation would "let the American people hear - yes or no - where their elected representatives stand on one of the greatest challenges of our time. We cannot simply speak out against an escalation of troops, we must act to prevent it."
Woolsey, Waters and Lee's legislation goes far beyond the flurry of other bills that have been discussed among Democrats in the House and Senate over the past two weeks.
Prohibits any permanent US military bases in Iraq
Accelerates funding for military/contractor training of Iraqi forces
Authorizes a wide array of non-military US bilateral and multilateral assistance for reconstruction and reconciliation in Iraq
Prohibits US access to Iraqi oil production prior to the Iraqi government establishing clear rules for foreign ownership and participation
Guarantees health care for US veterans of military operations in Iraq and other conflicts
Creates a bipartisan joint committee to investigate the process by which the US was led into war under false pretenses and make recommendations on how such a situation can be prevented in the future.
But the Democratic lawmakers' proposal was overshadowed by a non- binding resolution opposing the troop increase, introduced Wednesday by Senators Joe Biden and Carl Levin, which has gained the support of a handful of Republicans.
One of those Republican lawmakers, Senator Chuck Hagel, (R-Nebr.) vowed to do everything in his power to stop President Bush from following through on his plan to deploy thousands more soldiers to Iraq.
"I will do everything I can to stop the president's policy as he outlined it Wednesday night," Hagel said, referring to President Bush's prime-time address last week, in which he outlined his new strategy for Iraq. "I think it is dangerously irresponsible."
The resolution is merely symbolic and simply attempts to force lawmakers to cast a vote in favor or in opposition of the president's plan. The goal, according to Biden's aides, is to get President Bush to put the brakes on his proposal by showing him just how little support his new strategy has with Democrats and Republicans in both houses of Congress. A vote on the legislation and the resolution will likely take place after President Bush's State of the Union address next Tuesday.
"I believe that when a president goes way off course on something as important as Iraq, the single most effective way to get him to change course is to demonstrate that his policy has waning or no support - from both parties," Senator Biden said. "This resolution says what we, Democrats and Republicans, are against: deepening America's military involvement in Iraq by escalating our troop presence. It also says what we are for: a strategy that can produce a political solution to stop the violence."
Yet despite the mounting dissent from within his own ranks, President Bush has vowed to follow through on his intent to send additional forces to Iraq no matter what Congress says.
"I fully understand they could try to stop me from doing it," Bush said during a wide-ranging interview with 60 Minutes Sunday. "But I made my decision, and we're going forward."
White House spokesman Tony Snow reiterated Bush's stance Wednesday, saying, "The president has obligations as a commander in chief. And he will go ahead and execute them."
Bush's steadfast refusal to even consider something other than a full- scale escalation of the Iraq War, which has resulted in the deaths of more than 3,000 US soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians, will set the stage for a showdown between the executive branch and Congress and will likely result in a spirited debate about the extent of presidential power.
Some highly regarded constitutional scholars have said if President Bush sends additional US troops into Iraq, he can only do so for a maximum of 90 days, under the War Powers Act of 1973, which states the president must notify Congress within 48 after he sends troops into combat.
"This is a situation the War Powers Act was intended to deal with," said Francis Boyle, a University of Illinois law professor, and a vocal critic of the administration's policies. After Vietnam, Congress passed the War Powers Act to close loopholes that were exploited by President Johnson to escalate US involvement in Vietnam without Congressional approval.
Ohio State law professor John Quigley agreed.
"If President Bush wants to send more troops, he is subject to the War Powers Resolution, which allows him to commit troops for only 60 days without an authorizing resolution from Congress," Quigley said.
Dennis Johnson, writing in the Ohio State University Journal of Politics in the Fall of 2001 describes the eerily similar parallels between the Vietnam and Iraq wars, specifically, the pubic debate about escalating the conflict, which gave birth to the War Powers Act.
"During the Vietnam War, the ignorance by the executive of the constitutional right of Congress to declare war became a hotly debated issue in both the House and Senate," Johnson wrote. "After reaching a compromise between themselves, and overriding a presidential veto, the Congress successfully gave birth to the War Powers Resolution. This new law would allow the president a 60-day executive war, and gave Congress the privileges of consultation and reporting, and reinstated their right to declare war.
Boyle and Quigley have called on Congress to force the president to abide by the act after he sends additional troops into combat. But the War Powers Act itself does not specify what Congress can do if the president refuses to comply with it.
Jason Leopold is a former Los Angeles bureau chief for Dow Jones Newswire. He has written over 2,000 stories on the California energy crisis and received the Dow Jones Journalist of the Year Award in 2001 for his coverage on the issue as well as a Project Censored award in 2004. Leopold also reported extensively on Enron's downfall and was the first journalist to land an interview with former Enron president Jeffrey Skilling following Enron's bankruptcy filing in December 2001. Leopold has appeared on CNBC and National Public Radio as an expert on energy policy and has also been the keynote speaker at more than two dozen energy industry conferences around the country.