"Dedicated to exposing the lies and impeachable offenses of George W. Bush"

Dems mobilize to restrict flow of war funding
The San Francisco Chronicle
Zachary Coile, Chronicle Washington Bureau
Saturday, January 13, 2007

(01-13) 04:00 PST Washington -- Democrats in Congress plan to crank up pressure on President Bush by voting this month on a resolution opposing his plan to send 21,500 more troops into Iraq and following up quickly with efforts to pass tough restrictions on future war funding.

Rep. Jack Murtha, D-Pa., an influential member of the Appropriations Committee and top ally of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, warned Friday that he might seek to close the controversial U.S. prison for terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba as a condition of approving more money for the war.

"If he wants to veto the bill, he won't have any money" for the war, Murtha said at a forum of anti-war Democrats.

Democrats have been galvanized by the negative public reaction to Bush's proposed troop increase and the opposition of many Republicans in Congress. A new Associated Press-Ipsos poll found that 70 percent of Americans oppose sending more troops to Iraq.

Pelosi, D-San Francisco, is under pressure from her party's most liberal members to cut off all funding for the war unless the money is tied to a withdrawal of U.S. forces. For now, the speaker is opting for a more cautious strategy of first pushing a nonbinding resolution that would serve as a rebuke of Bush's planned increase in the number of troops.

"It's a first step," said Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, a Pelosi ally. "It sends a message to the president that he doesn't have the support of the Congress and he doesn't have the support of the American people."

Pelosi has said she would not rule out other steps -- such as placing restrictions on future war funding -- but her aides say she'll start with a resolution opposing the president because it has the broadest support among Democrats.

"The one unified thing in our caucus is the feeling there should be an up-or-down vote on the president's new policy," said Brendan Daly, Pelosi's communications director. "It all reflects opposition to any escalation."

The public thumping that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice took during her appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday -- much of it from Republicans -- has led Democrats to believe the tide in Congress has shifted against Bush on the war.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has promised to filibuster the resolution opposing the troop increase. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., predicts he will overcome the blocking tactic by picking up as many as a dozen GOP votes for the resolution. The measure probably would be passed easily by the Democrat-led House.

Some Republicans already are preparing to paint Democrats as defeatists for suggesting a troop withdrawal.

Democrats "have a responsibility to tell us what they believe are the consequences of withdrawal in Iraq," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a likely presidential candidate in 2008, said Friday at a Senate Armed Services hearing. "If we walk away from Iraq, we'll be back, possibly in the context of a wider war in the world's most volatile region."

Many Democrats already have introduced measures to end the war. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., has a bill that would require that Iraq war funds be used only to protect U.S. troops as they are withdrawn by the end of the year. Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel, is offering a bill to revoke Congress' 2002 authorization for the war in Iraq and force Bush to pull out U.S. troops. Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, plans to introduce a similar bill on Tuesday, based on a plan by former Sen. George McGovern, to withdraw all forces within six months.

At a meeting of House Democrats' "Out of Iraq" caucus Friday, several lawmakers urged party leaders to take a more aggressive stand by pulling the plug on Bush's war budget.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, who is running for president as an anti-war candidate, warned that if Democrats vote for a supplemental appropriation, expected to be about $100 billion, it could give Bush enough money to keep the war going nearly to the end of his presidency.

"The Democrats' only hope of keeping faith with the American people is to tell the president: 'Look, the money's in the pipeline now to bring the troops home,' " Kucinich said. "Unfortunately, this president is determined to expand the war."

Cutting off money for the war could spark a constitutional showdown between Congress and the president. The White House claims any move by Congress to end the war by stopping the money would violate Bush's authority as commander in chief. But Democrats and some scholars believe Congress, with its constitutional power of the purse, has the leeway to set limits on the president's ability to make war.

Murtha, who chairs the defense appropriations subcommittee, said he is considering putting many conditions on the Pentagon's emergency war spending request, expected in February. One would rein in the spending by military contractors. Another would close Guantanamo Bay, which he said has tarnished America's image. Another could limit how often reservists are called up to serve.

Murtha said Democrats might try to block Bush's troop increase -- which the White House estimated would cost $5.6 billion -- through the spending bill. But he wants to hold hearings first, starting Wednesday.

"We'll look at that and see if that needs to be stopped," he said.

Other lawmakers have cast doubt on Democrats' ability to derail Bush's proposed increase by cutting off funds. The president could shift money from other Pentagon accounts to pay for his new strategy.

"Part of the buildup, for instance, involves simply keeping soldiers there for a longer period of time," House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, D-Wis., said in an interview with Bloomberg TV. "It's pretty hard to stop the president from building up with troops who are already there."

But, Obey added, "This is going to stop when the Republican members of Congress go down to the White House the way they did with (President Richard) Nixon and Watergate and say: 'Mr. President, the jig's up, the country isn't supporting this anymore, and neither are we.' "

Staff writer Edward Epstein of The Chronicle's Washington bureau contributed to this report. E-mail Zachary Coile at zcoile@sfchronicle.com.

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