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Bush Faces Resistance in Congress on Iraq Surge

Majority Democrats in Congress are signaling they intend to put up strong resistance to any troop surge in Iraq proposed by President Bush in his speech Wednesday. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill.

The resistance takes the form of legislation being introduced in both chambers of Congress and public statements by individual lawmakers opposing what they say would amount to an escalation of the war in Iraq.

In some of the harshest comments aimed at the president by any member of Congress, Senator Ted Kennedy used a Washington speech Tuesday to compare the situation President Bush faces in Iraq to the war in Vietnam.

The Massachusetts Democrat, who was among senators voting against a measure in 2002 giving congressional authorization for U.S. military action in Iraq, is taking legislative steps he says will ensure that Congress takes a firm stand. "That no additional troops can be sent, and no additional dollars can be spent on such an escalation unless and until Congress approves the president's plan," he said.

A version of Senator Kennedy's bill is being introduced in the House by Massachusetts Congressman Ed Markey, another key critic of Bush administration policies in Iraq.

Republican Senate leaders say they oppose what they say are attempts by members of Congress to micro-manage Iraq. "I think it is inappropriate for the Congress to try to micro-manage and affect the tactics in a military conflict. I don't think Congress has the authority to do it, I don't think it would be good at it. You can't run a war by a committee of 435 [members] in the House, and 100 in the Senate," said Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader.

However, others signal they intend to craft legislation that would seek to strengthen Congress' constitutional powers regarding war-fighting decisions, and limit the president's range of action.

On the eve of the president's address, Congressman Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat, used remarks on the House floor to suggest that the 2002 authorizing resolution on Iraq approved overwhelmingly by Congress now lacks validity, saying Democrats should take advantage of that. "Knowing what we know now, the authorization of force bears little relation to reality. Instead, the [congressional] committees of jurisdiction should use their upcoming hearings to craft new legislation that will mean a withdrawal of our troops, as well as guide our continued involvement in Iraq until that withdrawal is complete," he said.

Blumenauer plans to introduce a separate measure to help Congress use its powers, including its budgetary authority, more effectively while helping to chart a way forward in Iraq.

Such comments also underscore the difficulties Democrats have at the moment in constructing a strategy that adheres to election pledges to force a change in direction on Iraq.

While House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has ruled out on numerous occasions any move to cut funds that might harm the interests of U.S. troops on the ground, lawmakers are struggling to come up with ideas.

Democratic Senator Barack Obama had this comment earlier this week when asked about what he acknowledged is a difficult situation facing Democrats. "My office is now investigating what tools are available to us to condition or constrain appropriations," he said.

Obama says methods will include vigorous oversight of White House spending requests. But he adds Democrats' message to the president on Iraq must not reduce resources available to U.S. troops in what he asserts remains a very important mission.

Obama suggests part of a line of questioning Democrats will pursue. "What evidence do we have that additional troops, additional American troops, will lead to the Iraqi government taking greater responsibility in providing security for its people and diminishing the sectarian war there? What specific steps are going to be taken to ensure that the Iraqi government stands up?," he said.

On the eve of the president's address, Senator Gordon Smith, a Republican who recently parted with the president on Iraq strategy, said he supports steps that would give Congress more control over decisionmaking on Iraq.

Democrats and Republicans alike agree on one thing - that the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will be under increased pressure after President Bush's speech to shoulder more of the security burden, and take necessary political steps to ease sectarian strife.