[Nancy Pelosi], along with the Democratic leader of the Senate, Harry Reid, informed the president that they were opposed to increasing troop levels.Oh, he's going to have to justify it. Strong words, eh? Or will they -- can they -- actually do something about the funding?
“If the president wants to add to this mission, he is going to have to justify it,” Mrs. Pelosi said on the CBS News program “Face the Nation.” “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.”
She also suggested that Congress should deal with financing for the current war and for the proposed increase as separate issues. “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,” she said.That's an interesting contrast between the two legislators, one of whom is running for President in '08. Let's look at the full transcript of Biden on "Meet the Press." Here's the key part (boldface added):
Whether lawmakers are prepared to advocate legislative steps to withhold funds from an expanded mission is unclear. Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said Sunday that as a practical matter, there was little that lawmakers could do to prevent Mr. Bush from expanding the American military mission in Iraq.
“You can’t go in like a Tinkertoy and play around and say you can’t spend the money on this piece and this piece,” Mr. Biden said on the NBC News program “Meet the Press.” “He’ll be able to keep the troops there forever, constitutionally, if he wants to.”
“As a practical matter,” Mr. Biden added, “there is no way to say, ‘Mr. President, stop.’ ”
MR. RUSSERT: You said the other day that this is President Bush’s war, and there’s...So it's up to the Republicans to do something about the war? Nothing the Democrats can do at all. It's the same situation as before the election, and yet -- in Pelosi's words -- "this is new."
SEN. BIDEN: It is.
MR. RUSSERT: ...there’s really little Democrats can do. Why not cut off funding for the war?
SEN. BIDEN: I’ve been there, Tim. You can’t do it.
MR. RUSSERT: Why?
SEN. BIDEN: You can’t do it. It’s—what—because it made sense in the Constitution when you said you could cut off funding when you had no standing army. We have a standing army with a budget of hundreds of billions of dollars. You can’t go in and, like a tinker toy, and play around and say, “You can’t spend the money on this piece and this piece and”—he—able—he’ll be able to keep those troops there forever constitutionally if he wants to.
MR. RUSSERT: Why not have legislation then that would cap the number of troops in Iraq?
SEN. BIDEN: Because it’s very difficult to—it’s constitutionally questionable whether or not you can do that. I think it is unconstitutional to say, “We’re going to tell you you can go, but we’re going to micromanage the war.” When we wrote the Constitution, the intention was to give the commander in chief the authority how to use the forces, when you authorize them, to be able to use the forces. And so, look, what we have to be doing here is the president—the only way this is going to change, Tim, and I’ve been saying—I’m a broken record on this—is when a majority of Lindsey’s colleagues, Republicans, say to the president, “Mr. President, enough. We are not going to support you any more,” that’s when the president will begin to change his policy. That’s when we begin to listen to bipartisan groups. That’s when we bebin—begin to listen to the majority of the expert opinion in this country.
I'm picturing no change in funding the war, even if Bush goes through with his surge. We'll have some hearings and investigations, but they will be primarily for the purpose of shaping the Democrats image in preparation for the '08 election. And that's what you got out of the big '06 elections on the issue that the elections were supposedly all about.
ADDED: Here's Howard Fineman:
Even as they decried the "surge" and declared that it is "time to bring the war to a close," Democrats offered reasons for staying out of Bush's way. Obama took the safest ground. "I cannot in good conscience," he said, "cut off funding for our troops that are already there." He and others will insist that future requests be included in the regular budget. Sen. Joe Biden, whose Foreign Relations Committee will launch hearings on the war this week, said that Congress's role is simply too limited to be effective. "It's all about the separation of powers," he said. Last month he told Bush: "This is your war, Mr. President, and there's nothing we can do to stop you."Fineman answers that question in the way that I think I lot of folks who voted for Democrats will. What happened to the outrage? Exactly what you should have expected!
The Democrats may not really want to. Party leaders (especially Nancy Pelosi) fear being branded as "weak on defense" if they kicked off in Congress with antiwar maneuvers. Rather than do that, said Biden and Sen. Chris Dodd, the best strategy for now is to try to dig out the facts and educate the public. Only Republicans have the leverage to pressure Bush to change course, Biden said.
In the meantime, Democrats know a classic "wedge issue" when they see one. With 21 Republicans up for re-election, Democrats would be happy to witness full-scale GOP infighting, which could catch the Republicans' '08 front runner, Sen. John McCain, in the crossfire. Democratic strategists say it would be politically foolish to help Bush by crafting a bipartisan war policy. "Why should we try to come up with a compromise policy with him?" asks Mike Ward, a former congressman who was back at the Capitol for opening-day festivities. "If we do that, we take ownership of the war. Why would we want to do that?"