Thursday, February 01, 2007

Feingold, Obama Introduce Anti-Escalation Bills

One is showing the leadership he has always shown in the Senate and one is displaying the vision we must require of a presidential candidate, but both Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Barack Obama (D-IL) have introduced legislation this week to fight the Bush-McCain Doctrine of escalating the Iraq war.

More importantly, both do it with legislation bearing the force of law and that will go beyond the sentiments expressed in the Levin-Warner "sense of the Senate" resolution, that will certainly pass first.

Feingold, who has been fighting the Bush administration for years on both domestic spying and the Iraq war, proposed the Iraq Redeployment Act of 2007 to use Congress’s federal-funding power to force George W. Bush to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq by prohibiting funds for continued operations six months after enactment.

“By passing my legislation, Congress can respond to the will of the American people and force the President to safely bring our forces out of Iraq,” Feingold said. “With the President set on pursuing his failed policies in Iraq, Congress has the duty to stand up and use its power to stop him. If Congress doesn’t stop this war, it’s not because it doesn’t have the power -- it’s because it doesn’t have the will.”

Feingold chaired hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday to investigate the true power held by the Congress to head off any more disastrous moves in Iraq by the White House. The hearings featured a diverse panel of constitutional scholars who testified that Congress does indeed have the power to end a war.

"Congress can, and has, used the power of the purse to restrict presidential war power. If members of Congress are worried about American troops fighting for their lives in a futile war," wrote Louis Fisher, a specialist in Constitutional Law and a witness in Feingold's hearing on Tuesday, in his book Presidential War Power. "Those lives are not protected by voting for continued funding. The proper and responsible action is to terminate appropriations and bring the troops home.”

Refusing to accept the conventional wisdom that says politicians should fear using the power of the purse because it leaves them open to charges that they don’t support the troops, Feingold points out in introducing his legislation that there is precedent for Congress restricting funding to end military engagements in Cambodia (1970), Vietnam (1973), Somalia (1993) and Bosnia (1998).

Feingold's bill would force Bush's hand by putting the onus on the White House to withdraw troops before funding expires and requiring the president to report to Congress, within 60 days of enactment, a strategy for safely redeploying U.S. forces from Iraq within the six months prior to the fund termination date. The Wisconsin Senator's legislation also allows for specific operations to continue in Iraq beyond six months, including counter-terrorism efforts, protection of U.S. personnel and infrastructure, and training of Iraqi security forces.

The Iraq War De-escalation Act of 2007, introduced by Obama this week, would place a cap on the number of troops in Iraq, stop the planned escalation and begin a phased redeployment of U.S. troops that would result in the removal of all combat forces from Iraq by March 31, 2008. This is consistent with the Iraq Study Group recommendations that, according to Obama, "… the President has so assiduously ignored."

"The American people have waited. The American people have been patient. We have given chance after chance for a resolution that has not come and, more importantly, watched with horror and grief at the tragic loss of thousands of brave young American soldiers," said Obama on the Senate floor Tuesday. "The time for waiting in Iraq is over. The days of our open-ended commitment must come to a close. The need to bring this war to an end is here."

Obama, who has announced that he is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008, says that his legislation has teeth because it compels Bush to begin redeployment of troops "to the United States, Afghanistan, and elsewhere in the region" by May 1 of this year and restricts the number of troops in Iraq to the number there on January 10, 2007 --the day Bush announced his ill-advised escalation plan.

In a Senate speech this week, Obama also maintained that the Bush administration has no credibility left on the conduct of the Iraq war and that Congressional intervention is the only responsible way forward.

"We have been told that we would be greeted as liberators. We have been promised that the insurgency was in its last throes. We have been assured again and again that we were making progress, that the Iraqis would soon stand up, that our brave sons and daughters could soon stand down," said Obama. "We have been asked to wait, and asked to be patient, and asked to give the President and the new Iraqi government six more months, and then six more months after that, and then six more months after that."

"It is my firm belief that the responsible course of action for the United States, for Iraq and for our troops, is to oppose this reckless escalation and to pursue a new policy."

Feingold agrees and strongly conveyed the message this week that Democrats must step up to the plate and not follow in the footsteps of the do-nothing Republican Congress, that did nothing to help America's men and women serving in Iraq.

“From the beginning, this war has been a mistake, and the policies that have carried it out have been a failure,” Feingold said. “Congress must not allow the President to continue a war that has already come at such a terrible cost. We have the constitutional authority and the moral responsibility to end our involvement in Iraq so we can refocus on those who attacked us on 9/11.”