Monday, January 22, 2007

The Republican Revolt!

As George Bush takes the lectern in the House chamber for his State of the Union address, he can finally claim that he is fulfilling the promise of his 2000 presidential campaign to be a uniter and not a divider. With his proposal to increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq, Bush is indeed bringing Democrats and Republicans together. The problem for him is that the bipartisan front they are forming is against him. It has the potential to lead to the most serious foreign policy confrontation between a President and Congress since the Vietnam War.

Though Democrats are now in charge of both houses, the lawmakers to watch are the Republicans, who for the first time are charting their own course on Iraq. At least a dozen G.O.P. Senators have expressed opposition to Bush's "surge" plan, and one-- potential presidential contender Chuck Hagel of Nebraska--is even working with leading Democrats to pass a resolution against it. Hagel, a twice-wounded Vietnam veteran, has said Bush's plan to increase U.S. troop strength in Iraq by 21,500 represents "the most dangerous foreign policy blunder since Vietnam, and I intend to resist it."

The Senate measure, expected to go to the floor soon after Bush's speech next week, would be nonbinding. However, a strong and bipartisan vote against Bush's surge strategy could pave the way for bolder congressional moves in coming months, including putting restrictions on how money for the Iraq war is spent. One test could come as early as February, when the White House is expected to send Congress a request for supplemental funding for the war.

Representative John Murtha, who opposes the war and chairs the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, has said he won't move to cut off funds. But he may, for instance, mandate that soldiers be given at least a year off between war-zone tours, a move that would make it far more difficult for Bush to find the men and women he needs to carry out his plan.

To circumvent the spectacle of some in the President's own party voting against his war plan, Republican leaders on Capitol Hill are hoping to come up with a resolution that their members can support. It is a sign of how badly Bush is faring that they are considering endorsing a bipartisan plan that was rejected by the President. The Iraq Study Group's recommendation last month for a phased withdrawal "is the best option for Republicans at this stage," says a senior G.O.P. aide. "It would be less of a repudiation."

Democratic leaders in the House want the Senate to act first, in the hope that if enough Republicans vote against the President's plan in the Senate, it will make G.O.P. members in the House more comfortable about breaking with Bush. Democratic strategists know that, given the electoral math of the 2008 election, the political climate is dire for Senate Republicans. G.O.P. Senators can little afford to support their President on a policy opposed by more than 60% in most polls. A year from now, Senate Republicans will have to defend 21 of the seats they currently hold, compared with only 12 for the Democrats. That helps explain why some of the strongest critics of the Bush plan are endangered Republicans like Norm Coleman of Minnesota, Gordon Smith of Oregon and Susan Collins of Maine--and why Republican leaders aren't putting any pressure on them to back off their criticism. -(Time Magazine)


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