Monday, January 08, 2007

Pelosi's Empty (?) Threat

In the months leading up to the midterms, Democratic candidates and leaders were careful in how they spoke about Iraq. It was a failure, and 'a new direction' was needed, we were told, but without much in the way of specifics. But no matter what, we were assured, a Democratic Congress would not cut off funds for troops in Iraq.

Well, looks like that statement ought to have been parsed a little. Ms. Pelosi now says that while they won't limit funds for troops already on the ground in Iraq, they may cut off funds for additional troops:

Democrats now running Congress will not give President Bush a blank check to wage war in Iraq, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Sunday, suggesting they could deny him the money should he call for additional troops...

Pelosi made clear that her party supported boosting the overall size of the military "to protect the American people against any threats to our interests, wherever they may occur. That's different, though, from adding troops to Iraq." She also said Democrats would not cut off money for those troops already in Iraq.

But dollars for a further buildup in Iraq — Bush's expected plan could send as many as 20,000 additional U.S. troops — will get the strictest of scrutiny, she said.

"The burden is on the president to justify any additional resources for a mission," said Pelosi, D-Calif. "Congress is ready to use its constitutional authority of oversight to question what is the justification for this spending, what are the results we are receiving."

"There's not a carte blanche, a blank check for him to do whatever he wishes there," she added in an interview taped Saturday and broadcast Sunday...

While leading Democrats reaffirmed their opposition to a troop buildup, several did not join Pelosi in suggesting it was possible Congress could deny Bush the money for the additional forces.

"I don't want to anticipate that," said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.

Sen. Joe Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a 2008 presidential candidate, said increasing troops would be a "tragic mistake." But he contended Congress was constitutionally powerless to second-guess Bush's military strategy because lawmakers had voted to authorize the commander in chief to wage war.

"As a practical matter, there's no way to say, 'Mr. President, stop,'" Biden said, unless enough congressional Republicans join Democrats in persuading Bush that the strategy is wrong. "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.'"
Apart from the fact that Biden's comments are 100% correct, there are political reasons to think that his point of view may prevail. Democrats gained control of Congress partly because they were seen as having no role in the 'mess' in Iraq. If they start micro-managing, then they will be part owners of the effort, and Colin Powell's famous 'you break it, you bought it' maxim will apply to them as well. That's not something they want.

Furthermore, John Edwards has started calling the surge 'the McCain plan,' something that other contenders are likely to parrot. If Democrats succeed in preventing it, they'll never be able to criticize McCain for leading the charge on a failed plan. And Presidential candidates will want to make sure that they preserve a line of attack.

So while Pelosi's comments might sound like a reason for concern, it's probably just sabre-rattling for the benefit of those folks lined up on the beach.

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