DUMMERSTON, Vt. - President Bush was recently asked whether his administration would continue to increase the number of troops in Iraq despite growing congressional opposition. "Frankly, that's not their responsibility," he replied.
The Bush administration has all but dared Congress to try to stop the escalation of troops in Iraq. The president believes that he is "the decider" and Congress has no say at all in the matter.
However, Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., is reminding his colleagues that Congress, not the president, has the constitutional authority "to declare, to define and, ultimately, to end a war."
Article I of the Constitution gives Congress the power to "raise and support Armies," "provide and maintain a Navy" and to "make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces." It also states that "No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law."
While the president is the commander in chief and has the power to carry out a war, Congress ultimately controls the purse strings and can stop a war by cutting off funding.
This is why Feingold introduced a bill prohibiting the use of funds to continue the deployment of U.S. forces in Iraq six months after enactment of the legislation.
"This legislation will allow the president adequate time to redeploy our troops safely from Iraq and it will make specific exceptions for a limited number of U.S. troops who must remain in Iraq to conduct targeted counter-terrorism and training missions and protect U.S. personnel," wrote Feingold last week for the Web site TomPaine.com. "It will not hurt our troops in any way - they will continue receiving their equipment, training, salaries, etc. It will simply prevent the president from continuing to deploy them to Iraq."
A similar measure had been introduced in the House by Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif. It also calls for a six-month timetable for withdrawal and acceleration of the training and equipping of Iraq's military and security forces.
Like Feingold's bill, Woolsey is supporting measures that are real and concrete. This is different from the namby-pamby "non-binding" resolutions that are just political posturing and ultimately mean nothing. If a majority of the 110th Congress wants to stop the war in Iraq, this is how to do it. If they have the guts.
A showdown is looming over the issue. The amount of money spent on the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and other anti-terror activities since Sept. 11, 2001, is more than $500 billion, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service. At the current rate of spending, the so-called war on terror will surpass the inflation-adjusted $660 billion spent on the Vietnam War by 2008.
Massive borrowing from foreign investors has managed to mask the impact of all the nation's military adventures. As of November 2006, foreigners own about $2.2 trillion in U.S. treasury securities, or about half of the national debt that's not held by the federal government. This compares to about 20 percent in the early 1990s. The current national debt is about $8.7 trillion, it was about $5.6 trillion when Bush took office.
Leaving aside the human tragedy of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for now, this nation is simultaneously waging a global war and cutting taxes on the wealthy. It is money borrowed from other nations, a debt to be sloughed off on future generations while ignoring present priorities.
This is totally unsustainable, but the Bush administration is betting that it can keep doing this. They think we can keep borrowing from overseas lenders, keep cutting taxes and keep the chimera of prosperity rolling indefinitely.
If too many congressmen and senators are afraid that they'll be branded as "not supporting the troops" if they vote to cut off funding for the war, perhaps the economic argument outlined above might give them an opening.
Whatever tack is chosen, it should be noted that there is precedent for what Feingold and Woolsey are proposing. Congress cut off funding for President Nixon's expansion of the war in Vietnam to Cambodia in 1970. In 1973, Congress cut off funds for combat activities in Southeast Asia, effectively ending U.S. involvement in Vietnam. In 1994, Congress cut off funds for military operations in Somalia and in 1998, Congress put limits on U.S. involvement in Bosnia.
It can be done, but it's going take a display of courage far beyond what we've seen so far from the 110th Congress.
"Since the president is adamant about pursuing his failed policies in Iraq, Congress has the duty to stop him," wrote Feingold. "If Congress doesn't stop this war, it's not because it doesn't have the power. It's because it doesn't have the will."