Jan. 17, 2007 -- There is a strong feeling on Capitol Hill among Democrats and many Republicans that President Bush's strategy to increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq is a bad idea. But that's where the agreement seems to end.
Born out of mounting congressional opposition, many of the growing number of proposals on what should be done in Iraq -- in lieu of the president's troop surge -- contradict or repeat each other.
In the last week alone, three separate hearings in various congressional committees dealt with different policy options available in Iraq. Add to those hearings four press conferences (three of them by presidential aspirants) on Iraq policy and countless speeches on the floors of both the House and Senate.
The current list of anti-surge bills and resolutions already offered mostly come from Democrats, though Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska -- the guy who last week called Iraq the "most dangerous foreign policy mistake since Vietnam" -- is now coauthoring the tamest, but most bipartisan resolution of the bunch.
The coming days could bring more plans outlining alternative strategies.
Add to all of this the fact that within the next month the White House will have to ask Congress for a rumored $108 billion in emergency funding to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Pennsylvania Democrat Rep. John Murtha's defense appropriations subcommittee met Wednesday behind closed doors with military representatives, perhaps in anticipation of offering a resolution that would cutoff the requested surge funding.
Another factor thrust into the forefront of this debate is the looming 2008 presidential contest. Sens. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., Chris Dodd, D-Conn., Joe Biden, D-Del., and Chuck Hagel, D-Neb., are all presidential candidates and all offered anti-surge strategies for Iraq today.
Not to be outdone, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., who just yesterday formed a presidential exploratory committee, announced that he too will submit a plan for Iraq in the near future.
The Clinton Plan: Benchmarks for Iraqis and President Bush
The final plan announced today, by Clinton, was also the most substantive. Clinton has a detailed plan for what she would do in Iraq, and it does not involve the surge.
"I'm opposed to it…I do not think that the strategy has a very high level of success" she said this morning on the "Today" show. Later, on Capitol Hill, she layed out her plan, which would cap the number of American troops in Iraq at just over 130,000, the same level as Jan. 1, 2007.
Any additional troops would have to be specifically authorized by Congress. Clinton's plan would also create benchmark requirements for the Iraqi government to meet in order to maintain U.S. military involvement in their country. It would place benchmarks on the Bush administration for crafting a more effective diplomatic approach to Iraq's neighbors.
Clinton's plan bears many similarities to one offered earlier in the day by Dodd. The major difference is that Dodd's plan does not include the benchmark requirements, either for the Iraqi government or for the Bush administration -- Clinton's does.
While in-depth and precise, Clinton's plan also has little chance of passing the Senate, which she acknowledged at her press conference today.
A Non-Binding Message to the White House
What could win bipartisan support is a resolution coauthored by Sens. Biden, Hagel, and Carl Levin, D-Mich. The announcement on specifics of this non-binding "sense of the Senate" resolution is expected late Wednesday, and would simply send a bipartisan, non-binding message to the president that a strong majority of senators don't approve of the surge.
As many as a dozen Republicans could sign onto this plan. The Democratic leadership has called the vote on this resolution a starting point, a "test vote" of sorts. After they see what sort of support they get from Republicans, they'll move forward to pursue other, perhaps binding avenues from there.
Beyond this plan, considered the most bipartisan, there is unlikely to be a strategy that would get much Republican support.
Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., for instance, said on the Senate floor this morning that he is against the surge, but also against a pullout (though, those comments make it unclear what exactly he is for, aside from a "bipartisan political strategy" for "political equilibrium").
Senators Biden, Hagel, and Levin all support phased withdrawal, but their resolution does not require anything of the White House.
Don't Cut Appropriations, Cut Authorization
Presidential hopeful Dodd has offered his own bill as an amendment to the Biden-Hagel-Levin non-binding resolution. Dodd's bill, like Clinton's, proposes to block the surge without blocking funding for the war.
"There is ample precedent for such action," Dodd said. "In 1973, 1983, 1984 and 2000, Congress enacted provisions limiting the number of U.S. troops in Vietnam, Lebanon, Europe and Colombia."
Dodd's plan is similar to that first offered by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., last week, but it does not specifically broach the subject of restricting funding to pay for the surge. Requiring authorization for new troops, however, would effectively restrict funding for a surge.
Dodd's plan would also use the new authorization vote to cap the number of troops in Iraq at Jan. 1 levels -- 130,000.
The first official proposal came from Kennedy last week. His proposal would require a new authorization for the war, but would also technically cut off funding for the surge by having Congress vote against emergency supplemental funding for the additional forces.
This tack may have been pre-empted by the Pentagon, which started the tip end of the surge even as the president was announcing it. How do you de-fund a surge that has already begun?
The Progressive Caucus Plan
Offered by northern California liberal congressional members Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., and Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., this legislation would "force President Bush to withdraw all U.S. forces currently in Iraq, within 6 months."
The legislation, which is designed as a comprehensive alternative to the administration's "New Way Forward," would repeal the authorization for the use of force, fully fund a six-month withdrawal of U.S. forces and military contractors from Iraq (from the date of enactment of the legislation), prohibit permanent military bases in Iraq, provide economic and political aid to the Iraqi government and fully fund the Veterans Affairs Health Care system for all military veterans.
End the War With the Power of the Purse
Since it's not yet official because there's no bill attached to it, Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., has called for Congress to set an end date for funding of the Iraq War. So far, Feingold's plan has few specifics, though Feingold has said he hopes to explore it more in the coming weeks.