The Senate will on Monday challenge President George W. Bush’s proposed Iraq strategy with a debate on a non-binding resolution opposing the plan to send additional troops. However, several senators from both parties on Sunday warned it was unlikely to win the 60 votes needed for approval.
Republicans loyal to Mr Bush have attempted to undercut any political fallout from a resolution that would put on record the depth of cross-party dissent on the Iraq strategy. Their tactics include threats to filibuster a vote on the resolution and a “divide and conquer” strategy to allow votes on alternative resolutions.
Senator Lindsay Graham, a Bush loyalist, has proposed a competing resolution that lists benchmarks for the Iraqi government to achieve but supports the troop surge. He on Sunday said on Fox News: “A non-binding resolution is a political exercise that does nothing but harm to the war effort and it’s a small moment for the Senate.”
The debate comes as the Bush administration is preparing on Monday to submit a budget seeking an additional $100bn to pay for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and an additional $145bn in 2008, Rob Portman, director of the office of management and budget confirmed yesterday.
Dianne Feinstein, a Democratic senator, on CNN accused Republicans of “obstructionism” and warned that if the resolution was blocked, “a month or so down the pike there will be much stronger action”.
There are dangers of a more serious confrontation with the White House if Congress chooses to exert its constitutional power over government spending and cuts off funds, as it did during the Vietnam war.
Republican John McCain, who is co-sponsor of the resolution with Mr Graham, criticised those who backed the bipartisan, non-binding resolution – including several Republican senators. He said it was more honest to vote to cut off funds than to pursue a vote of disapproval, “which is fundamentally a vote of no confidence in the troops”.
The White House sought to address congressional unease ahead of the debate. Mr Bush on Saturday attended the annual retreat for Democrats for the first time since 2001. He said he welcomed “debate in a time of war” but mollified critics by noting that disagreements did not mean they were unpatriotic.