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Pelosi: Democrats may deny funding if Bush seeks troop increase
Since the 2001 attacks, Congress has approved about $500 billion for terrorism-fighting efforts.
WASHINGTON -- Democrats now running Congress will not give President Bush a blank check to wage war in Iraq, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Sunday, suggesting they could deny him the money should he call for additional troops.
Yet Pelosi's second-in-command and a Senate leader on foreign affairs questioned the wisdom and legality of using the power of the purse to thwart the White House as Bush prepared to announce his revised war strategy this week -- perhaps on Wednesday.
Republicans, now in the minority, said more troops were needed to get a handle on the spiraling violence in Iraq. They also cast doubt whether Democrats would -- or could -- block the president's plans. "Congress is incapable of micromanaging the tactics in the war," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Pelosi made clear that her party supported boosting the overall size of the military "to protect the American people against any threats to our interests, wherever they may occur. That's different, though, from adding troops to Iraq." She also said Democrats would not cut off money for those troops already in Iraq.
But dollars for a further buildup in Iraq -- Bush's expected plan could send as many as 20,000 additional U.S. troops -- will get the strictest of scrutiny, she said.
"The burden is on the president to justify any additional resources for a mission," said Pelosi, D-Calif. "Congress is ready to use its constitutional authority of oversight to question what is the justification for this spending, what are the results we are receiving."
"There's not a carte blanche, a blank check for him to do whatever he wishes there," she added in an interview taped Saturday and broadcast Sunday.
Bush was putting the finishing touches on his new policy over the weekend. In addition to the troop increase, it could provide more money for jobs and reconstruction programs in Iraq.
Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Congress has approved about $500 billion for Iraq, Afghanistan and other terrorism-fighting efforts. The White House is working on its largest-ever appeal for more war funds -- a record $100 billion, at least.
It will be submitted along with Bush's Feb. 5 budget.
While leading Democrats reaffirmed their opposition to a troop buildup, several did not join Pelosi in suggesting it was possible Congress could deny Bush the money for the additional forces.
"I don't want to anticipate that," said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.
Sen. Joe Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a 2008 presidential candidate, said increasing troops would be a "tragic mistake." But he contended Congress was constitutionally powerless to second-guess Bush's military strategy because lawmakers had voted to authorize the commander in chief to wage war.
"As a practical matter, there's no way to say, 'Mr. President, stop,"' Biden said, unless enough congressional Republicans join Democrats in persuading Bush that the strategy is wrong. "You can't go in and, like a tinker toy, and play around and say, 'You can't spend the money on this piece and this piece."'
Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told Bush in a letter last week that Democrats oppose additional U.S. forces in Iraq and want him to begin withdrawing in four months to six months American troops already there.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., criticized the Democratic proposal as a "formula for defeat," saying more troops are needed because the U.S. military never had enough personnel in Iraq to get the job done.
"If we don't start over, and do what we should have done in the beginning -- having enough people to win this war -- we will pay a heavy price," he said.
"They never talked one minute in that letter what happens to Iraq when we leave," Graham added. "In all honesty we are not winning, and if you're not winning, you're losing. And now's the time to come up with a strategy to win."
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., wrote in Sunday's Washington Post that boosting troops for an indefinite time was necessary to secure peace in the Mideast.
"When we authorized this war, we accepted the responsibility to make sure they could prevail," he wrote. "Even greater than the costs incurred thus far and in the future are the catastrophic consequences that would ensure from our failure in Iraq."
But Pelosi, pointing to the November elections that ousted Republicans from control of the House and Senate, said Iraq already is in complete chaos.
"The American people have spoken very clearly on the subject in the election," she said. "And this war in Iraq is damaging our military readiness, so it is not making America safer, it is not making the region more stable."
Ahead of his speech, Bush planned to continue briefings with lawmakers this week, culminating in a meeting with bipartisan leadership on Wednesday, according to lawmakers and aides.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said she would like to see a congressional vote on whether Bush can send in additional troops.
"My belief is, the president's coming to us," she said. "He's going to ask for billions and billions of dollars. He's going to send more of our people into harm's way. I think it would be best for the country if we got to vote on that surge or escalation."
Pelosi spoke on CBS' "Face the Nation," McConnell and Hoyer appeared on "Fox News Sunday," Biden and Graham were on NBC's "Meet the Press" and Boxer appeared on CNN's "Late Edition."