WASHINGTON -- A Senate Republican yesterday directly challenged President Bush's declaration that he is "the decision-maker" on issues of war.
"I would suggest respectfully to the president that he is not the sole decider," Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania said during a hearing on Congress's war powers amid an increasingly heated debate over Iraq war policy. "The decider is a shared and joint responsibility," Specter said.
The question of whether to use the power over the government's purse strings to force an end to the war in Iraq, and under what conditions, is among the issues faced by the newly empowered Democratic majority in Congress, and even some of the president's political allies .
No one challenges the notion that Congress can stop a war by canceling its funding. In fact, Vice President Dick Cheney challenged Congress to back up its objections to Bush's plan to put 21,500 more troops in Iraq by zeroing out the war budget.
Underlying Cheney's gambit is the consensus understanding that such an aggressive move is doubtful because it would be fraught with political peril.
But there are other legislative options to force the war's end, say Democrats, who hold a majority in both houses, and some of Bush's traditional Republican allies.
The alternatives range from capping the number of troops permitted in Iraq to cutting off funding for troop deployments beyond a certain date or setting an end date for the war.
"The Constitution makes Congress a coequal branch of government. It's time we start acting like it," said Senator Russell Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, who presided over a hearing yesterday on Congress's war powers. He also is pushing legislation to end the war by eventually prohibiting funding for the deployment of troops to Iraq.
His proposal, like many others designed to force an end to US involvement in the bloody conflict, is far from having enough support even to come up for a vote on the Senate floor.
Closer to that threshold is a nonbinding resolution declaring that Bush's proposal to send 21,500 more troops to Baghdad and Anbar Province is "not in the national interest." The Senate could take up that measure early next month.
But some senators, contending that the resolution is symbolic, are forwarding tougher bills.
Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California, for example, is a sponsor of a bill that would call for troops to come home in 180 days and allow for a minimum number of forces to be left behind to hunt down terrorists and train Iraqi security forces.
"Read the Constitution," Boxer told her colleagues last week. "The Congress has the power to declare war. And on multiple occasions, we used our power to end conflicts."
Congress used its war powers to cut off or put conditions on funding for the Vietnam War and conflicts in Cambodia, Somalia, and Bosnia.
Under the Constitution, lawmakers have the ability to declare war and fund military operations, while the president has control of military forces.
But presidents also can veto legislation, and Bush probably has enough support in Congress on Iraq to withstand any veto override attempts.
Seeking input, Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Specter, asked Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales for the White House's views on Congress's war powers.
Boxer and Feingold are in effect proposing conditions on troop funding and deployment in an effort to end the war in some way other than zeroing out the budget. But some lawmakers and scholars insist war management is the president's job.