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It gets hard to keep track of all this stuff, doesn't it? When we have a President of the United States doing so many things wrong, for so long and we finally get a Democratic Congress that will actually take their oversight responsibilities seriously, well, the bills start flying faster than Dick Cheney can say "go f*** yourself" to Senator Patrick Leahy. So let me clear up what's happening in the Senate where, at press time, we have three pieces of legislation that seek to neuter George W. Bush's ability to escalate the Iraq war. Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) has introduced one bill, currently cosponsored by seven Senators, to remove any funding for sending additional troops to Iraq. The legislation proposed by Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) doesn't mention money, but cuts right to the chase by simply mandating that any new troop deployment for Iraq must be approved by Congress. Then there's the Biden-Hagel-Levin resolution, introduced on Wednesday, that more or less tells Bush that Congress is against escalating the war but, as a non-binding resolution, does not compel the president to cancel sending 22,000 more troops to Iraq. The best way to make sense of this is to cut to (quite literally) the bottom line of these bills to see what Congress is really trying to say. In all three pieces of legislation, good preambles are given spelling out exactly what the problem is -- in other words, they all detail just what a mess Iraq has become and why the American people have said "enough." Some or all of the bills cite the 3,000 troops we have lost, the number of Americans wounded, the number of Iraqis who have died and the total lack of foundation for a continued U.S. presence in Iraq based on the original resolution allowing Bush to start the war. Statements are cited from Generals Abizaid and Casey saying more troops will not get the job done and all three mention the sectarian violence and the fact that our military is now smack-dab in the middle of a civil war. The bipartisan, non-binding resolution also mentions America's standing in the world, saying "the situation in Iraq is damaging the standing, influence, and interests of the United States in Iraq, the Middle East and around the world." OK, so all three establish that the whole thing's a mess and we should not be pursuing John McCain's advice of putting more troops in such an awful situation -- but what's to be done? The Biden-Hagel-Levin resolution is what's called a Senate Concurrent Resolution -- meaning that it also goes to the House of Representatives for a vote -- and it expresses the resolve of Congress that we no longer belong in Iraq, that the only solution is political, that regional political involvement is necessary and that the U.S. should have an "expedited timeline" for having Iraqi forces, not American troops, halt the sectarian violence. But the big line is the one that says "it is not in the national interest of the United States to deepen its military involvement in Iraq, particularly by escalating the United States military force in Iraq." All well and good -- and it's nice to have a Republican or two on board -- but it does nothing to tangibly alter Bush's intended course of action. As Republican Chuck Hagel, one of the measure's authors, said on CNN this morning, Bush "can't dismiss the Congress like it's some appendage" instead of a coequal branch of government representing the peoples' will, but you know that's not how this White House views governing. As for the Kennedy bill, the bottom line is as follows:
"President George W. Bush should not be permitted to increase the number of United States troops in harm's way in the civil war in Iraq without a new authorization from Congress that reflects the reality of the changed circumstances on the ground in Iraq. "Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no Federal funds may be obligated or expended by the United States Government to increase the number of United States military forces in Iraq above the number for such forces which existed as of January 9, 2007, without a specific authorization of Congress by law for such an increase."So Kennedy's legislation cuts off the money for new troops going to Iraq and, while it would be binding on the president, the White House insists it already has the money to send the 22,000 extra troops without any additional funding from Capitol Hill. If that's true, the best option may be Dodd's legislation, which does not rely on funding restrictions but simply lays it on the line by prohibiting any further troops from being sent without Congressional approval. Dodd's bill, which Bush would be bound to obey, says "The levels of United States military forces in Iraq may not exceed the level of such forces in Iraq as of January 15, 2007 without specific authority in statute enacted by Congress..." So, to wrap up: The Biden-Hagel-Levin resolution doesn't say enough and, with Congress speaking to a president who doesn't listen and doesn't care, it's more symbolic than anything that will truly make a difference. Senator Kennedy has shown commendable leadership on this issue, but his amendment relies on the more complex mechanism of cutting funding -- and it may not even stop the surge if Bush can get the money from somewhere else in the Defense Department budget. I'll keep you posted on when any of these come up for a vote but I like the Dodd bill... It's forceful, simple, direct and doesn't involve questions of funding an escalation. It just says no more troops to Iraq - period. And isn't that what the American people are saying? Update: After seeing how the Biden-Hagel-Levin resolution is causing such severe fractures in the Republican party -- Olympia Snowe (R-ME) jumped on board today -- I wanted to give you a bit more food for thought on whether, politically speaking, there's more to the non-binding resolution than meets the eye. Blogger Kagro X, at Daily Kos has a piece up that discusses how, if the resolution accomplishes nothing else, it's forcing a very public dialog on the Bush-McCain Doctrine and putting Congressional Republicans in the position of either going down with Bush and McCain on this or listening to their constituents and joining with Democrats on stopping the escalation in Iraq. In addition, here's a few more quotes to chew on from some of the Senators supporting the resolution: Joe Biden (D-DE): "I believe that when a President goes way off course on something as important as Iraq, the single most effective way to get him to change course is to demonstrate that his policy has waning or no support from both parties. This resolution says what we, Democrats and Republicans, are against: deepening America's military involvement in Iraq by escalating our troop presence. It also says what we are for: a strategy that can produce a political solution to stop the violence." Chuck Hagel (R-NE): "The resolution we are introducing today is responsible, forward-looking, bipartisan and constructive. The Iraq war is the most important issue facing America today and the Congress must be engaged in this debate. This resolution engages the Congress in that debate. "This is a big issue. It involves all of us. The Congress of the United States has a role to play. I don't believe we have played that role very effectively the last four years. But the Congress of the United States, as Article I of the Constitution (states), we are a co-equal branch of government. "I will do everything I can to stop the president's policy as he outlined it Wednesday night. I think it is dangerously irresponsible." Carl Levin (D-MI): "The resolution would send a clear, bipartisan message that Congress does not support the plan for escalation because it is based on the false premise that there is a military solution to the violence and instability in Iraq, when what is needed is a political solution among the Iraqi leaders and factions." Olympia Snowe (R-ME): "Now is time for the Congress to make its voice heard on a policy that has such significant implications for the nation, the Middle East and the world. This Resolution is an expression of the American people's frustration with our current Iraq policy. Its focus rightly hinges on a diplomatic and political solution as a military solution is no longer feasible in Iraq. An increase in troops will not solve the root causes of violence in Iraq nor do I believe that the Iraqi government has shown the will or the capacity to bring about effective national reconciliation. I believe this resolution offers a clear expression for a new strategy that will have 'the Iraqi political leaders make the political compromises to end the violence.'"