Iraq: Precedents for Congressional Power

The Progress Report

Congress has historically exercised authority to cap U.S. troop levels in foreign conflicts. It should now do so again in the Iraq conflict.


Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) has introduced legislation to raise auto fuel efficiency standards from the current 27.5 miles a gallon to 40 miles per gallon by 2017.


CALIFORNIA: “Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is expected to announce today that he will order a 10% cut in motor vehicle emissions of greenhouse gases, mainly carbon dioxide.”

NEW YORK: Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D) promised to propose legislation to legalize same-sex marriage in New York State.

GEORGIA: Anti-choice groups hold a “public hearing” today to rally support for “a proposed abortion ban similar to the one defeated in South Dakota.”

PENNSYLVANIA: State legislature tackles “secretive ethics, rules panels.”


THINK PROGRESS: Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) refuses to raise taxes to pay for war: “I’m not sure what the point would be.”

CREW BLOG: Fundraiser photo of Bush and criminal lobbyist Jack Abramoff surfaces.

TPM MUCKRAKER: White House hires lobbyist to replace Harriet Miers as counsel.

HOMELAND SECURITY WATCH: Cost of building border fence is five to 25 times greater than congressional leaders forecast last year.


“After speaking with our military commanders on the ground, I strongly believe that additional U.S. troops must be deployed to Baghdad.”
— Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), 12/21/06, referring to a recent trip to Iraq with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)


“McCain and Lieberman talked to many of the same officers and senior NCOs I covered for Fox News during my most recent trip to Iraq. Not one of the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Guardsmen or Marines I interviewed told me that they wanted more U.S. boots on the ground. In fact, nearly all expressed just the opposite: ‘We don’t need more American troops, we need more Iraqi troops,’ was a common refrain.”
— Fox News military analyst Oliver North, 1/5/07


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  January 9, 2007
Precedents For Congressional Power
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Precedents For Congressional Power

Tomorrow night at 9 p.m. EST, President Bush will address the nation and announce an escalation of the war in Iraq by sending about 20,000 more U.S. troops to Iraq. The American people, their representatives, and the military commanders on the ground strongly oppose this course of action. Can Congress do anything about it? Some have claimed that anything other symbolic action is unconstitutional. That’s false. A wide range of legal experts agree there are a range of legal options available to Congress to stop, or place conditions on, any escalation in the war in Iraq. For example, John Yoo, a former Bush administration lawyer and one of the staunchest defenders of executive power, noted that “the power of Congress over the budget was absolute, to such an extent that lawmakers could end the war altogether if they chose.” On the other side of the political spectrum, Georgetown University Law Professor Marty Lederman agrees. A new report from the Center for American Progress illustrates that Congress has acted repeatedly over the last 35 years to ensure the conduct of military action would “strengthen American national security and reflect the concerns and will of the American people.” Congress has passed bills, enacted into law, that capped the size of military deployments, prohibited funding for existing or prospective deployment, and placed limits and conditions on the timing and nature of deployments.

CAPPING TROOP LEVELS: Congress has historically exercised authority to cap U.S. troop levels in foreign conflicts. In 1974, the Foreign Assistance Act “established a personnel ceiling of 4000 Americans in Vietnam within 6 months of enactment and 3000 Americans within one year.” In 1983, the Lebanon Emergency Assistance Act “required the president to return to seek statutory authorization if he sought to expand the size of the U.S. contingent of the Multinational Force in Lebanon.” In 1984, the Defense Authorization Act “capped the end strength level of United States forces assigned to permanent duty in European NATO countries at 324,400.” All of this legislation was enacted into law.

RESTRICTING FUNDING: Congress has also restricted funding for certain military operations for U.S. troops. In 1970, the Supplemental Foreign Assistance Law, “prohibited the use of any funds for the introduction of U.S. troops to Cambodia or provide military advisors to Cambodian forces.” In 1982, the Defense Appropriation Act “prohibited covert military assistance for Nicaragua.” In 1994, Congress restricted the use of funds “for United States military participation to continue Operations Restore Hope in or around Rwanda after October 7, 1994.”All of these funding restrictions were enacted into law. Read the report for more examples.

CONDITIONING FUNDING: Alternatively, Congress has authorized military action subject to various conditions. In 1991, Congress authorized the use of force against Iraq but conditioned it on the President “certifying first that means other than war would not result in Iraqi compliance with UN Security Council resolutions.” In 2001, President Bush sought authority to respond to the 9/11 attacks to “deter and pre-empt any future acts of terrorism or aggression against the United States.” Instead, Congress limited the authority to “all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned authorized committed or aided” the 9/11 attacks.

CONGRESS NOT SITTING ON THE SIDELINES: Today, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) will propose one option, asserting Congressional authority and demanding accountability for the President’s policy. Kennedy “will introduce legislation on Tuesday to require the president to gain new Congressional authority before sending more troops to Iraq. The bill is the first proposal in the Senate that would prohibit paying for an increase in American troops over their level on Jan. 1.” Kennedy’s action is similar to a proposal outlined in an American Progress memo, released in December, which recommended “an amendment on the supplemental funding bill that states that if the administration wants to increase the number of troops in Iraq above 150,000, it must provide a plan for their purpose and require an up or down vote on exceeding that number.”

Under the Radar

ENVIRONMENT — EXXON TO ‘SOFTEN’ ITS PUBLIC IMAGE ON GLOBAL WARMING: ExxonMobil chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson has promised investors that it would “soften” its public image on global warming, but made clear that it would not actually be changing its basic position. Fadel Gheit, an oil analyst who was at the meeting with Tillerson, noted, “Although the tone has changed, the substance remains the same.” Tillerson also attacked Royal Society in Britain, stating it had “inaccurately and unfairly” depicted Exxon as a climate change skeptic. Exxon told the Guardian that it plans to work on explaining better its basic position on global warming: “Greenhouse gas emissions are one of the factors that contribute to climate change. This is an extremely complex issue but even with the scientific uncertainties, the risk (of global warming) is so great that it justifies taking action.” But Exxon’s record shows anything but action on climate change. According to a recent report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, Exxon has “funneled nearly $16 million between 1998 and 2005 to a network of 43 advocacy organizations that seek to confuse the public on global warming science.” The big-oil front group the Competitive Enterprise Institute has received $1.6 million from Exxon since 1998, using the funding to distort global warming research and attack any meaningful action to regulate carbon dioxide emissions.

VETERANS — VA ‘BUCKLING’ UNDER RISING DEMAND CREATED BY IRAQ WAR: “As the Iraq war approaches its fourth anniversary,” wrote Linda Bilmes of the Kennedy School of Government and Joseph Stiglitz of Columbia University, “the Department of Veterans Affairs is buckling under a growing volume of disability claims and rising demand for medical attention.” So far, more than 200,000 veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan have been treated at VA medical facilities — three times what the VA projected, according to a Government Accountability Office analysis. “More than one-third of them have been diagnosed with mental health conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder, acute depression and substance abuse. Thousands more have crippling disabilities such as brain or spinal injuries. In each of the last two years, the VA has underestimated the number of veterans who would seek help and the cost of treating them — forcing it to go cap in hand to Congress for billions of dollars in emergency funding.” The VA medical system “has a reputation for high-quality care,” but the high volume of new claims has created waiting lists that “run as long as several months,” understaffed Vet Centers, and a “bureaucratic nightmare” for those receiving disability checks. In a report written earlier this year, “The Economic Costs of the Iraq War,” Stiglitz calculated the true costs of the Iraq war would exceed a trillion dollars, assuming all U.S. troops were home by 2010. The cost estimate included “expenditures not in the $500bn CBO projection, such as lifetime healthcare and disability payments to returning veterans.”

IRAQ — SEN. COLLINS, OLIVER NORTH COUNTER CLAIM THAT COMMANDERS IN IRAQ WANT MORE U.S. TROOPS: Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), a leading advocate of escalating the Iraq war, has said he decided to back an increase in U.S. forces only after “speaking with our military commanders on the ground.” After returning from a trip to Iraq, Lieberman wrote in an op-ed, “In Baghdad and Ramadi, I found that it was the American colonels, even more than the generals, who were asking for more troops.” Some have questioned Lieberman’s basis for supporting escalation.  “The colonels will always say they need more troops,” former Secretary of State Colin Powell reportedly said recently. “That’s why we have generals.” However, there are also indications that Lieberman may not have been accurate about the desire among commanders in Iraq for more U.S. troops. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), who traveled Lieberman in Iraq, had a much different impression from military officials. As American Prospect reporter Greg Sargent noted, Collins reported that “not a single commander came anywhere near saying anything that could be construed as desiring — or even supporting — any kind of large scale increase,” while “only one American commander [based in Anbar province] said an increase might help — a small increase [roughly 3,000 troops] that could be solved by a reallocation.” Fox News analyst Col. Oliver North expressed similar sentiments in a column last week. “Not one of the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Guardsmen or Marines I interviewed told me that they wanted more U.S. boots on the ground,” North wrote. “In fact, nearly all expressed just the opposite: ‘We don’t need more American troops, we need more Iraqi troops,‘ was a common refrain.”

Think Fast

After a meeting between President Bush and more than 30 Republican senators yesterday, Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR) said, “‘It was clear to me that a decision has been made for a surge‘ of at least 20,000 additional troops.” Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) noted that most senators didn’t embrace Bush’s plan: “I think I was the only senator who acted like he would be supportive.”

The CIA has submitted portions of a book manuscript by former Director George Tenet to the White House for review amid speculation the memoirs will be critical of President Bush. A CIA spokesman denied allegations that the book had been submitted for review of negative comments about Bush.

The new congressional leadership’s “100 hour agenda” begins today as the House votes on a bill to enact several 9/11 Commission recommendations. Commission co-chair Lee Hamilton said yesterday, “if this bill is enacted, then almost all of the recommendations of the commission will have been put into law” and the “American people will be safer.

$2 trillion. The amount the U.S. spent on health care, “fueled by the cost of hospital care, doctor fees and prescription drugs.” “Health-care spending grew 6.9 percent to about $1.99 trillion from about $1.86 trillion in 2004.”

“Tony Blair will make clear this week that Britain is not going to send more troops to Iraq even if the US pushes ahead with a ’surge.’” The Prime Minister will “insist that the UK will stick to its own strategy of gradually handing over to the Iraqi army.”

One in eight. Number of Iraqis who have now left their homes, “with up to 50,000 people leaving each month,” according to the U.N. Refugee Agency. It noted that the “exodus was the largest long-term movement since the displacement of the Palestinians after the creation of Israel in 1948.”

A federal investigation of former CIA Executive Director Kyle “Dusty” Foggo “has stalled because of CIA reluctance to turn over classified documents requested by prosecutors, people close to the investigation say.” Foggo is under scrutiny for his role in the Duke Cunningham scandal.

President Bush “pushed for renewal of the No Child Left Behind education law Monday in a meeting with congressional leaders but was noncommittal on their request for more money to help schools meet the law’s requirements.”

A Pentagon Inspector General review of offices under former Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith is “expected to be completed within the next few weeks.”

“Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) on Monday proposed a system of universal health insurance for Californians that would make the nation’s most populous state the third to guarantee medical coverage for all its residents.” Some 6.5 million people, one-fifth of the state’s population, do not have health insurance.

And finally: Beach babe Obama. A two-page spread titled “BEACH BABES” in the latest issue of People magazine features a photo of shirtless Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) “in the Hawaiian surf.” Presented with the image yesterday, Obama said, “You know, it’s uh — … It’s embarrassing.” Later, “Obama noticed that Jay Newton-Small of Bloomberg News was studying the image. ‘Stop looking at it!‘ he mock-scolded, and hustled away.”


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