Former Gov. Tom Vilsack, D-Iowa, sought to separate himself from his presidential rivals today by urging Congress to stop funding U.S. fighting in Iraq.
"Those in Congress who voted for the war, those in Congress who have voted to continue the war, and those in Congress who have funded the war, can surely vote to end the war," Vilsack told members of the Democratic National Committee during the second day of a presidential candidates' forum in Washington.
Vilsack's comments made him the first major presidential candidate to urge Congress to use its spending power under the Constitution to bring U.S. fighting in Iraq to an end. Former Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., the party's 2004 vice presidential nominee, has called on Congress to use its spending power to block President Bush from adding 21,500 additional U.S. troops to Iraq.
But Vilsack went one step further today, calling on Congress to use the power of the purse to completely end U.S. involvement in the Iraq war.
"Congress has the constitutional responsibility and a moral duty to cut off funding for the status quo," said Vilsack. "Not a cap -- an end. Not eventually -- immediately."
According to a Vilsack aide, the former governor still supports keeping a U.S. troop presence in the northern Kurdish part of the country in an effort to dissuade Iran from moving into any power vacuum created by the end of U.S. military engagement in central Iraq. Asked how many U.S. troops Vilsack would keep in the north, his aide said Vilsack would rely on the advice of U.S. military commanders.
The Kurdish area is, compared to other parts of the country, peaceful.
In podium remarks that he delivered without use of a teleprompter, Vilsack urged members of his approximately 500-person audience to look to their left and right. Vilsack said that the number of people that represents -- about 1,000 -- is the number of U.S. soldiers that he thinks will die in Iraq over the next year if Congress does not act to cut off funds.
Vilsack's camp is hoping he will be a more credible messenger on the Iraq war than Edwards or Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., since he is not tainted, as they are, in the eyes of some Iraq war opponents, by having voted to authorize the use of force in 2002.
Vilsack's aides are hoping to differentiate him from Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., the consistent Iraq war opponent who is still serving his first term in the U.S. Senate, by pointing to Vilsack's experience as a chief executive during eight years as governor of Iowa.
Without identifying anyone by name, Vilsack used the non-binding nature of the Iraq resolution that the Senate plans to debate next week to imply that Clinton and Obama are ineffectual on the war.
"What is the point of a non-binding resolution?" Vilsack told ABC News. "Does that save a single life?"