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Experts Debate US War Powers as Senate Debates Iraq War

The U.S. Senate this week is considering whether to restrict President Bush's conduct of the war in Iraq. It is a long awaited showdown between Mr. Bush and Democrats who say they want to impose firm timetables for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. While a president and Congress share war powers under the U.S. Constitution, some experts say the advantage now favors the chief executive. VOA's Jim Fry takes a closer look.

The commander-in-chief on Friday joined Marines for lunch at a military base near Washington, D.C.

President Bush sought the company of soldiers the same week that his top general in Iraq -- David Petreaus -- and his chief diplomat there -- Ambassador Ryan Crocker -- proposed to Congess modest troop reductions. They argued against rapid withdrawal.

Even though Mr. Bush urged Congress to agree to the general's plan, Democrats in the U.S. Senate said they would not. Senator Harry Reid leads the opposition party. He said, "There will be amendments offered to change the course of the war."

"It's futile," says University of Virginia scholar Larry Sabato. He says because Democrats hold only a one vote majority, they will not win the two-thirds they need to force Senate action.

Many political experts say voters expressed their impatience in 2006 with Mr. Bush's conduct of the war. Yet just two months later, Mr. Bush ordered more soldiers into Iraq.

Sabato proposes the Constitution be changed to give Congress the power to end any war by simple majority vote. "We need to rearrange these powers and bring Congress back into the equation after a war begins."

The Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war, as it did in 1941 after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor ,a U.S. Naval base on Hawaii. But since Franklin Roosevelt, theU.S. president at the time, no president has sought a formal declaration.

Sabato says the House and Senate should be given the power to end military action by a simple majority vote.

Charles Stevenson, Johns Hopkins University Professor disagree. "I don't think you need it," he said. Stevenson served two decades as a defense and foreign policy adviser to the Senate. He argues that Congress is powerful enough to reign in a president.

In 1973, near the end of the Vietnam War, Congress voted to stop bombing ordered by President Richard Nixon. "It cut off the money. President Nixon obeyed that."

After a U.S. helicopter was downed in Somalia in a raid that left 18 U.S. soldiers dead, Stevenson says President Bill Clinton agreed to a congressional limit on U.S. involvement. "Presidents have accepted Congress acting on the power of the purse, but that's a pretty drastic action and I'm not sure the anti-war folks are anywhere near the votes they need to pass something like that."

The president ordered U.S. troops into Iraq after the Congress authorized military action five years ago. Congress has taken no such vote since. And unless anti-war senators can win more votes, Mr. Bush will continue running the war as he sees fit.