For the good of the country, Congress should probably block any increase in the number of troops sent to Iraq. The most effective way to do that would be to add an amendment or rider to a military appropriations bill, because the president must sign that legislation. From a partisan political standpoint, however, the Democrats are probably better off objecting to the “surge” without actually blocking it with a rider. If they stop the president from fighting the war as he wants, he can blame them for the ultimate debacle in Iraq. If they use the “power of the purse” to stop the surge, their critics can say that they failed to fund our soldiers. On the other hand, if they allow the president to proceed with his surge over their objections, the blame will rest with him.
I’m for principle and national interests rather than partisan advantage and the avoidance of blame. However, I doubt that the Democrats have the votes to pass an anti-surge amendment in both houses of Congress. Therefore, principle will not prevail. Would the following idea work instead? Congress would pass the appropriation that the president requests (to fund our troops fully) and then debate a separate bill to prevent any additional Americans from being sent to Iraq. Of course, the president would veto that bill–if it passed–and would then implement the surge. Yet there would be several advantages to passing separate legislation. It would show that responsibility for the surge rested with the president. Arguably, Congress would discharge its duty by debating and (I hope) voting against troop increases. And Democrats from strongly anti-war districts would have an opportunity to cast a clear vote.
I”m not sure why Senator Kennedy introduced a bill “to prohibit the use of funds for an escalation of United States forces in Iraq above the numbers existing as of January 9, 2007.” I would much prefer legislation that avoided any mention of “funds” and simply said, “To prohibit the escalation of United States forces.” I suppose Senator Kennedy wants to stay on safer constitutional ground by invoking the congressional power of the purse. He may wish to avoid the argument that the president alone may decide how to conduct a war. But that argument is questionable. In any case, the president will veto Kennedy’s bill unless it becomes an amendment to an appropriations bill. It might as well be written so it says what it should: No surge.