House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other top Democrats yesterday said their party might deny funding for President Bush's expected call this week for a troop surge in Iraq if he doesn't meet their demands for detailed consultations and congressional debate on military strategy.
"If the president chooses to escalate the war, in his budget request we want to see a distinction between what is there to support the troops who are there now. The American people and the Congress support those troops. We will not abandon them," the California Democrat said during an appearance on CBS' "Face the Nation."
"But if the president wants to add to this mission, he is going to have to justify it. And this is new for him because up until now the Republican Congress has given him a blank check with no oversight, no standards, no conditions."
Rep. David R. Obey, Wisconsin Democrat and House Appropriations Committee chairman, echoed his party leader's warnings and some of her wording, saying, "There are certainly going to be no blank checks" from his panel.
"I think we're going to scrub his request and, at the same time, use it as a chance to really discuss whether or not the policy behind that request makes any sense," he said.
But he, like Mrs. Pelosi, was quick to emphasize that a rejection of a surge did not equate to abandoning the forces already stationed in Iraq.
"I think the Congress will provide everything that the troops need," he said during an appearance on ABC's "This Week."
In a letter to the president on Friday, Mrs. Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, cautioned Mr. Bush against calling for a troop surge, although it did not threaten to wield Congress' purse power.
"Surging forces is a strategy that you have already tried and that has already failed," the letter reads. "Like many current and former military leaders, we believe that trying again would be a serious mistake. They, like us, believe there is no purely military solution in Iraq."
Mrs. Pelosi was more explicit yesterday.
"The burden is on the president to justify any additional resources for a mission," she said. "Congress is ready to use its constitutional authority of oversight to question what is the justification for this spending."
Mrs. Pelosi's fellow Californian Sen. Barbara Boxer said on CNN's "Late Edition" that she would like to see Congress vote on whether Mr. Bush can send more troops and issued warnings about funding a surge.
"My belief is, the president's coming to us," said Mrs. Boxer, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "He's going to ask for billions and billions of dollars. ... I think it would be best for the country if we got to vote on that surge or escalation."
She added that "there's nothing against that in the Constitution. We do have the power of the purse."
CNN's Wolf Blitzer asked Mrs. Boxer: "So you want to use that power of the purse?"
"I want to use it in terms of whether or not we should fund this escalation if, in fact, that's what the president does," Mrs. Boxer responded.
While Washington has seen much speculation on how many Republican lawmakers would support a troop surge, party leaders yesterday were decidedly more supportive.
"I think to basically begin to withdraw before the job is finished is a mistake," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said yesterday during an appearance on "Fox News Sunday." "If the president recommends what we seem to believe he's going to recommend, I intend to support him."
The Kentucky Republican also pointed out that at least one non-Republican, Sen. Joe Lieberman, also supports a surge. The Connecticut independent appeared with Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, at an American Enterprise Institute panel in Washington on Friday to support a surge.
"All I ask of my Republican colleagues, Democratic colleagues and the nation is just to hear the president out. I think there'll be a lot of support by Republican members," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, who supports a surge, on NBC's "Meet the Press."
The South Carolina Republican acknowledged that a surge is not popular but said a withdrawal from Iraq would be a mistake.
"To me, it is a strategy that is based on the needs of the moment. Even though it may not be politically popular for the moment, I think it is in our best interests long term."
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, a longtime rival of Mrs. Pelosi, said he opposes a surge but declined to threaten funding limits.
"We don't see this as a new policy, and I think it's going to be greeted with great skepticism," the Maryland Democrat told "Fox News Sunday." "We've also done the economic investment before -- unfortunately, with not very good positive results."
But when asked about denying funding, Mr. Hoyer said, "I don't want to anticipate that."
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, also said he opposes a troop surge but added that he doesn't think Democrats have the power to stop one.
"There's not much I can do about it. Not much anybody can do about it," Mr. Biden told NBC's "Meet the Press."