Saturday, May 15, 2004

The United States constitution grants Congress the right to declare war. At the same time, it grants the President status as Commander-in-Chief. As the United States has moved more an more into an imperial mode, fighting Max Boot's "savage wars of peace," the role of Congress has been overshadowed by that of the President in matters of war.

Of course, the textbooks say that even if wars are no longer declared by the United States, thus removing Congress' primary power over questions of war and peace, it still retains an important and effective instrument to assert its own voice against that of the executive: the power of the purse. The President can order troops to war, but if the Congress refused to appropriate the funds, no war will last long.

And yet, are there really checks and balances between the branches of government in any meaningful sense when it comes to the use of military force?
A major test of how Democrats feel will come during the next few weeks, as Congress prepares to debate an imminent White House request for an extra $25 billion to fund the occupation. The last time congressional Democrats were forced to stand and be counted on Iraq was last fall, when President Bush asked Congress for $87 billion to pay for Iraq. Back then, twelve Democrats in the Senate and more than 100 in the House opposed the funding. This time, despite a recent downward spiral of events, Democrats are expected to be more united around the extra money. "I think there are damn few Democrats who are going to oppose appropriating more money for the troops," says Dave Helfert, a spokesman for House Appropriations Committee Democrats. Notably, Kerry, who voted against the $87 billion last year, signaled that he plans to vote for the new $25 billion. . . .

Their grounds for opposing the $87 billion last fall--a lack of body armor for troops, unseemly Halliburton profits, and general administration mismanagement of the war--never penetrated, and Republicans have since attacked them for failing to "support the troops." (Witness the Bush campaign's ads pummeling Kerry's "no" vote.) This time Democrats are determined not to be cast as reckless doves. House Democrats are already planning to outbid the White House's spending request, upping Bush's $25 billion to as much as $50 billion or even $75 billion.
So now the only way to oppose Bush on the war is to out-Bush Bush himself! Golden.

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