By LAURIE KELLMAN
A Senate Republican on Tuesday directly challenged President Bush’s declaration that “I am the decision-maker” on issues of war.
“I would suggest respectfully to the president that he is not the sole decider,” Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said during a hearing on Congress’ war powers amid an increasingly harsh debate over Iraq war policy. “The decider is a shared and joint responsibility,” Specter said.
The question of whether to use its power over the government’s purse strings to force an end to the war in Iraq, and under what conditions, is among the issues faced by the newly empowered Democratic majority in Congress, and even some of the president’s political allies as well.
No one challenges the notion that Congress can stop a war by canceling its funding. In fact, Vice President Dick Cheney challenged Congress to back up its objections to Bush’s plan to put 21,500 more troops in Iraq by zeroing out the war budget.
Underlying Cheney’s gambit is the consensus understanding that such a drastic move is doubtful because it would be fraught with political peril.
But there are other legislative options to force the war’s end, say majority Democrats and some of Bush’s traditional Republican allies.
The alternatives range from capping the number of troops permitted in Iraq to cutting off funding for troop deployments beyond a certain date or setting an end date for the war.
“The Constitution makes Congress a coequal branch of government. It’s time we start acting like it,” said Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., who is chairing a hearing Tuesday on Congress’ war powers and forwarding legislation to eventually prohibit funding for the deployment of troops to Iraq.
His proposal, like many others designed to force an end to U.S. involvement in the bloody conflict, is far from having enough support even to come up for a vote on the Senate floor.
Closer to that threshold is a nonbinding resolution declaring that Bush’s proposal to send 21,500 more troops to Baghdad and Anbar province is “not in the national interest.” The Senate could take up that measure early next month.
But some senators, complaining that the resolution is symbolic, are forwarding tougher bills.
Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, for example, is a sponsor of a bill that would call for troops to come home in 180 days and allow for a minimum number of forces to be left behind to hunt down terrorists and train Iraqi security forces.
“Read the Constitution,” Boxer told her colleagues last week. “The Congress has the power to declare war. And on multiple occasions, we used our power to end conflicts.”
Congress used its war powers to cut off or put conditions on funding for the Vietnam war and conflicts in Cambodia, Somalia and Bosnia.
Under the Constitution, lawmakers have the ability to declare war and fund military operations, while the president has control of military forces.
But presidents also can veto legislation and Bush likely has enough support in Congress on Iraq to withstand any veto override attempts.
Seeking input, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Specter, asked Attorney General Alberto Gonzales for the White House’s views on Congress’ war powers.
Managing a war Ã¢â‚¬â€ in effect what Boxer and Feingold are proposing Ã¢â‚¬â€ is the president’s job, some lawmakers and scholars say.
“In an ongoing operation, you’ve got to defer to the commander in chief,” said Sen. John Warner, R-Va., ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee. But the veteran senator and former Navy secretary said he understands the debate over Congress’ ability to check the executive branch.
“Once Congress raises an army, it’s his to command,” said Robert Turner, a law professor at the University of Virginia who was to testify Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
In recent decades, presidents have routinely bypassed Congress when deploying troops to fight. Not since World War II has Congress issued an official declaration of war, despite lengthy wars fought in Vietnam and Korea.
Congress does not have to approve military maneuvers.
John Yoo, who as a Justice Department lawyer helped write the 2002 resolution authorizing the Iraq invasion, called that document a political one designed only to bring Democrats on board and spread accountability for the conflict.
The resolution passed by a 296-133 vote in the then-GOP-run House and 77-23 in the Democratic-led Senate, but it was not considered a declaration of war.
Copyright Ã‚Â© 2007 The Associated Press