As the Senate struggles even to open debate on a non-binding – translation: meaningless – resolution expressing frustration with President Bush’s plan to surge 21,500 more U.S. troops into Iraq, state legislators across the country are telling Congress to embrace its constitutionally-defined duty to check and balance an out-of-control executive.

With encouragement from the Progressive States Network and activists across the country, members of at least 22 state legislatures have introduced resolutions urging Congress to use its authority to prevent the escalation of a war that should not have been fought in the first place. The resolutions that have been introduced generally declare that: “the Congress should pass legislation prohibiting the President from spending taxpayer dollars on an escalation in Iraq unless he first seeks Congressional approval.”

This is a relatively mild intervention at a time when most Americans oppose not just the president’s “surge” proposal but the war itself. What the legislators are suggesting, however, is that a divided Congress must, at the very least, act to prevent the escalation of a war that has killed thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, that has made Americans at home and abroad less safe and that has emptied the US treasury of funds that could pay for health care, education and other needed programs in the states.

There will be those who suggest that state and local officials have no place in federal debates. But PSN leaders, citing past moves by states to add their voices to debates over trade policy, argue that the legislative resolutions on the “surge” issue can and should play a vital role on convincing Congress to act.

“States have the power and authority to speak out on issues that will impact them and their citizens,” says PSN executive director Joel Barkin. “An escalation in Iraq would cripple our already over-extended guard units, threatening readiness at home.”

Barkin’s found plenty of agreement for that view in state capitols around the country. So far, PSN is tracking resolutions in Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia.

The moves by state legislators come as city officials across the country are stepping into the debate over the diversion of precious resources to an unwise and unnecessary war. Two weeks ago, the Minneapolis, Minnesota, city council passed a Bring the Troops Home Resolution, making it the 274th community to endorse an exit strategy as part of the Cities for Peace campaign organized by the Institute for Policy Studies’ Cities for Progress initiative.

The Cities for Peace campaign, an outgrowth of a pre-war push to get local governments to weigh in on Iraq, began long before the president made his “surge” proposal in January.

The new effort to get state legislators to pass anti-escalation resolutions began several weeks ago. In a PSN-organized conference call with legislators and activists, Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy, who had just proposed legislation that would require the president to attain congressional approval for any move to send more troops to Iraq, said that states should weigh in on the “surge” issue.

Kennedy suggested that members of Congress can be prodded by the states, noting that moves by states to increase the minimum wage has played a role in forcing the US House and Senate to address the issue.

States can do the same on the war, explained Kennedy.

PSN answered the call, using its website to encourage citizens to contact state legislators and urge them to speak out against the surge. More than 10,000 did. And the numbers are expected to rise quickly, as PSN will join MoveOn, True Majority and the Women Legislators’ Lobby are preparing to launch a national drive to build citizen support for the state-based anti-escalation resolutions.

The anti-war surge from below comes in conjunction with a broader Americans against Escalation in Iraq campaign, which has won backing the Service Employers International Union (SEIU), US Action, Move On, Win Without War, Vote Vets, Center for American Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and United States Student Association.

Americans Against Escalation plans to launch a multi-million-dollar campaign in up to two dozen states with the stated purpose of creating “a firestorm of grass-roots mobilization (to insist that Congress stand up to the President and insist on a policy which responsibly brings our troops home.”

The point, explains former Congressman Tom Andrews, the Maine Democrat who serves as Win Without War’s national director, is to prevent George Bush from steering the United States deeper into the Iraq quagmire.

“From the outset, the Bush administration’s Iraq policy has been rooted in denial and deception and carried out with a lethal combination of arrogance, ignorance and incompetence,” says Andrews. “When you find yourself in a hole, the first principle is to stop digging.”


John Nichols’ latest book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders’ Cure forRoyalism.