House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, are trying to figure out how to respond to the to the expected presidential proposal for to surge the United States deeper into the quagmire that is Iraq.
But the man who, by virtue of his long service in the Senate and his mastery of that chamber’s politics and procedures, is recognized and respected by savvy Democrats and Republicans as the essential member of the new Congress, is not confused.
Senator Edward Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, is today introducing legislation to uniquivocally “prohibit the use of funds for an escalation of United States forces in Iraq above the numbers existing as of January 9, 2007.”
Kennedy voted against authorizing President Bush to invade Iraq and he has been a consistent critic of the war. But this targeted piece of legislation specifically addresses the “surge” being proposed by the president.
Even more importantly, Kennedy’s bill reasserts the role of Congress in a time of war. The Constitution allows the president to serve as commander-in-chief and affords him reasonable war-making powers in that role. But it reserves for Congress the power of the purse, and the founders were clear in their believe that the House and Senate should use that power to constrain a president who is waging war without reason or sound strategies.
The Congress has frequently used the power of the purse to control presidential war-making. Kennedy points to examples from the Vietnam era, but there are also examples from just the past quarter century of the Congress specifically embracing troops caps in Lebanon, in the European NATO countries and in Colombia. Indeed, as the Center for American Progress notes in a detailed new report, “Congressional Limitations and Requirements for Military Deployments and Funding,” the Congress has a rich record of stepping in to prevent presidents from expanding U.S. involvement in foreign conflicts.
Kennedy, who came to the Senate in 1963 recognizes that record, and he embraces its central theme: That the Constitutionally-mandated system of checks and balances requires Congress to be in the thick of decision making with regard to wars and their escalation.
Kennedy’s specific message is summed up in the title of the speech the senator is delivinng today at the National Press Club: “Escalation is Not the Answer: Time for Congress to Insist on Real Change in Iraq”
Says Kennedy, “It seems to me that we are at a time of a major escalation into a civil war, that’s what the proposal of a surge is really about. This president is going to escalate the American presence and escalate the whole Iraqi war. This is a major mistake and a major blunder. If there’s one thing that the election was about last fall was sending a very clear message to Congress and to the president that the American people want accountability. They want a change in direction on Iraq, they want accountability, and they want people to stand up and be counted.”