A recent CBS News poll reveals that over 70 percent of Americans believe President Bush should obtain congressional authorization before escalating the war in Iraq. And a new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds that the public trusts congressional Democrats over Bush to handle Iraq by nearly a two-to-one margin, and that 59 percent of Americans – including over 25 percent of Republicans – want Congress to block the President’s escalation plan.

All of this begs the question: what is Congress going to do about it?

According to the New York Times, White House officials are “far more concerned about threats from Congressional Democrats to take aim at spending on the president’s new plan” than any non-binding, bipartisan resolution opposing escalation.

Nevertheless, there are some Democrats – like Senator Joseph Biden, Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – who have deluded themselves into thinking that words alone will stop Bush from pursuing his disastrous war.

“The single most important thing to do is generate a consensus here in the United States Congress,” Biden told The Washington Post. “I cannot believe that the president of the United States would not pay heed to a bipartisan resolution.”

Majority Leader Harry Reid echoed his colleague’s sentiments, telling The Times: “The president’s plan will receive an up-or-down vote…. With that vote, our hope, really our prayer, is that the president will finally listen: listen to the generals, listen to the Iraq Study Group, listen to the American people and listen to a bipartisan Congress.”

With all due respect to both Senators, what President have they been watching for the past six years?

Which isn’t to suggest that there is no value in the non-binding resolutions that will be offered shortly after the State of the Union address tomorrow (the Senate is expected to take up such resolutions on Wednesday). The resolutions represent an opportunity to show a groundswell of opposition and also to recruit Republicans into taking a stronger position against the war – most notably thus far are resolution co-sponsors, Senators Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Olympia Snowe of Maine. (A former Bush aide who is still close to the White House said that if the situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate “a delegation of [conservative] Senators could one day show up in the Oval Office to tell Bush that the party is no longer with him and the war must end – much like Senator William Fulbright forcefully urging President Lyndon Johnson to bring the Vietnam War to a close.”)

But passage of even a strongly worded resolution is no sure thing. According to The Times, Democratic Senator Ben Nelson – Hagel’s Nebraskan counterpart – is working with Republican Senators John Warner and Susan Collins on a resolution which wouldn’t “flatly oppose” the President’s escalation. And the prospect of a filibuster led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also looms – although as Hagel said , “I don’t believe there was one Republican senator who came forward with any kind of enthusiasm or any kind of strong support of the president’s plan.”

Even if a resolution does pass, if Congress then stands pat it would be a disaster in a nation where the people have so clearly expressed opposition to this war. (Even Chris Wallace of Fox News pointed out to Dick Cheney that the will of the people was demonstrated in an election – not a poll). Representative Barbara Lee – Co-Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus – said the resolutions are “a first step. [Our] bill will allow members of Congress to move forward and sign onto the second step.” Lee, and Representatives Lynn Woolsey and Maxine Waters’ Bring Our Troops Home and Sovereignty of Iraq Restoration Act calls for a six-month withdrawal and limits funding toward that end (as well as the training and equipping Iraqi and international security forces).

Representative Jerrold Nadler has also offered the Protect the Troops and Bring Them Home Act. The bill provides that no funds can be used in Iraq except to protect our troops and to arrange for their withdrawal beginning in one month and ending by December 31, 2007. Nadler’s legislation would also allow funding to assist Iraqi security forces, support reconstruction, and further diplomatic consultations.

In a statement the other day, Nadler said: “It has been wrongly asserted that Congress cannot force the President to de-escalate or withdraw from Iraq because it cannot use its only real power – cutting off funds – lest it be accused of ‘abandoning the troops.’ But if Congress appropriates funds, but limits those funds to protecting the troops and redeploying them from Iraq, that would be the best way of supporting the troops.”

Representative James McGovern made that very point in 2005 with the End the War in Iraq Act. His bill would limit funding to protecting the troops for a safe and orderly withdrawal; supporting reconstruction and diplomatic efforts; and equipping Iraqi security forces and an international stabilization force.

Presidential candidate, Representative Dennis Kucinich, has also introduced a plan to use funds to end the occupation, withdraw all troops and close all military bases in Iraq, and build an international peacekeeping force.

The key to all of these proposals which would use the power of the purse, Nadler says, is “undercutting the political demagogic attack that it somehow means we are not supporting the troops.”

One might expect to hear such attacks from the Bush administration or its dwindling supporters but it was most clearly expressed last week on the eve of her entry into the Presidential race – by Senator Hillary Clinton. Back from Iraq and Afghanistan, she has said in interview after interview that she will not cut funding because “our troops are in harms way.”

I would ask the Senator to please point to any legislation that would cut funding for troops in harms way. As a Democratic strategist recently wrote, “This is nothing more than a slur, an echo of the politically dishonest rhetoric of the administration.”

In fact, on Meet the Press, Senator Edward Kennedy said of the undercutting the troops myth: “… it’s been so abused, the statements about what – what would happen. We would have an orderly departure. We would set a time and have an orderly departure. We would make sure that our troops had the armor and had the bullets, not like the administration has when we went in, when we didn’t have the armor, we didn’t have the bullets, we didn’t have the up-armored humvees.”

Clinton appears to be pursuing that old-time triangulation strategy at a moment when bold leadership is desperately needed: denouncing escalation and calling for a cap on the number of troops (appeal to the party base); opposing a date for withdrawal or using the power of the purse (appeal to “centrists”); and calling for an increase in the number of troops in Afghanistan (promote an image of being strong on defense).

Others in the Senate will more aggressively seek an end to the war. Kennedy’s legislation would block funding of any troop increase without an explicit congressional authorization. (This is the approach favored by Representative John Murtha as well). Kennedy described his legislation: “It says that the president should come to the Congress and be able to demonstrate… that we need the increased troops, the increased resources with a new authorization…. Otherwise we have a cap in the number of troops that are there, and we don’t have the resources to send additional troops there.”

Senator Russ Feingold has also consistently opposed the war and urged using the power of the purse for an immediate withdrawal. After hearings in these next few weeks, he plans to introduce legislation to do just that – as he did in the last session of Congress.

Looming over all of this action (and inaction) is the 2008 presidential campaign. Former Senator John Edwards has called on Congress to use the power of the purse to stop escalation, saying that anything less would be a “betrayal”; Senator Christopher Dodd would cap the number of troops but so far has avoided the funding issue; Senator Barack Obama – who has opposed the war from the outset and is expected to introduce legislation this week – said in a released statement, “I not only favor capping the number U.S. troops in Iraq, but believe it’s imperative that we begin the phased redeployment I called for two months ago, and intend to introduce legislation that does just that.”

And in the House, according to the Washington Post, there is a growing conflict between “antiwar stalwarts such as Murtha” who want to use the power of the purse, and some senior Democrats like Democratic Caucus Chair Rahm Emanuel and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer who advocate a “go-slow” approach.

On January 27-29, labor, veterans, students, and peace groups from across the nation will mobilize in DC in order to increase grassroots pressure on our representatives to use their power to end the war – a war that is not winnable militarily, is looting our treasury, and is sending our servicemen and women into the crossfire of a civil war.

Meanwhile, these same representatives are hearing from their strategists, “For the sake of staying in power, you must not exercise the power you have in the matter of war.”

That is folly. And after four years of folly in Iraq, it is time to put an end to it.

A version of this post appeared on The Guardian’s Comment is Free blog.