- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s proposal yesterday to require congressional approval for a troop surge was generally dismissed by fellow Democrats, revealing the deep divisions within the party over how to handle the war in Iraq.

“I’m not going to rule it out, but we are trying to work out a resolution that would be broader and attract bipartisan support,” said Senate Democratic Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland also cast doubt on the proposal. The Constitution’s Article II, he said, “probably does” give the president authority to prosecute a war.

President Bush will address the nation at 9 p.m. today with a speech that is expected to propose an increase this year of about 20,000 troops in Iraq — at an estimated cost of $5 billion. U.S. officials said the president will also propose another $1 billion in economic aid to Iraq and lean on friendly Arab regimes to increase their assistance to Baghdad.

Many top Democrats credit their opposition to the war in Iraq for their huge victories in November. But their party is divided between those who want to retreat as soon as possible by cutting off funding and those who want to nudge the Bush administration toward a gradual withdrawal.

Mr. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, sought some middle ground that would at least hamper Mr. Bush’s ability to increase the number of troops in Iraq by requiring that he first seek approval from Congress.

“There can be no doubt that the Constitution gives Congress the authority to decide whether to fund military action,” Mr. Kennedy said during a speech at the National Press Club. “President Bush should not be permitted to escalate the war further and send an even larger number of troops into harm’s way, without a clear and specific new authorization from Congress.”

Jennifer Crider, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, told reporters last night that “the House will vote on the president’s proposal” for a troop surge, although she provided no details.

Although Democrats on Capitol Hill have roundly criticized Mr. Bush’s proposal even before it has been made, they are unlikely to go along with Mr. Kennedy’s plan.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said yesterday that he hopes to round up nine Republicans who might sign their names to a bipartisan resolution that would express disapproval of a troop surge but would have no concrete effect on policy.

“If there is a bipartisan resolution … the president is going to have to take note of that,” said Mr. Reid, Nevada Democrat. “That’s the beginning of the end as far as I’m concerned.”

Mr. Kennedy’s proposal, Mr. Reid said, “is an idea, and we’ll certainly look at it in an intelligent way.”

Democratic Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, Carl Levin of Michigan and Jack Reed of Rhode Island were crafting the resolution yesterday afternoon, Mr. Reid said, adding that he hopes to bring the resolution to the floor next week.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, and Mr. Reed will hold a press conference today with retired Gen. Wesley Clark, to call on the president “to end our open-ended commitment in Iraq.”

But not even Mr. Kennedy’s proposal, however, goes far enough to please hard-line war opponents.

Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio on Monday called for Mr. Bush to withdraw all troops from Iraq and close all military bases there.

“A U.S. declaration of an intention to withdraw troops and close bases will help dampen the insurgency which has been inspired to resist colonization and fight invaders,” he said in his announcement.

In addition, peace activist Cindy Sheehan and a group of protesters last week drove Rep. Rahm Emanuel, Illinois Democrat, from his own press conference and then demanded that Mrs. Pelosi block funding for the war.

“We are the ones that put them in power, and they are not including the peace movement. … It needs to be at least included in the discussion,” Mrs. Sheehan said.

But Mr. Kennedy said that trying to use the appropriations process against any troop surge is a losing strategy.

“The horse will be out of the barn by the time we get there,” Mr. Kennedy said.

He said that by the time an appropriations request is submitted later this month or in early February and by the time Congress responds six weeks later, “the troops will already be there.”

“And then we’ll be asked: ‘Are we going to deny the body armor to the young men and women that are over there?’ … We have to take the action now … or it’s going to be a lot of meaningless statements and comments,” Mr. Kennedy said.

Mr. Kennedy’s proposal states that the 2002 vote to authorize force in Iraq no longer applies to the current conflict and is therefore no longer binding.

White House spokesman Tony Snow said at a midday briefing that he had not seen Mr. Kennedy’s proposal, but said that “the debates continue to be conducted in a vacuum, [in] anticipation that the president’s going to say something.”

“It makes more sense to wait until the president lays out not only military but also diplomatic, economic and other actions that he intends to take,” Mr. Snow said.

• Stephen Dinan and Charles Hurt contributed to this report.

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