By ANNE FLAHERTY
Democrats are challenging President Bush’s power to wage war, contending they’ve found a way to block a troop increase in Iraq and prevent any pre-emptive invasion of Iran. But first Congress will vote on a nonbinding measure stating opposition to Bush’s decision to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq.
The House was expected to pass the measure on Friday, with the Senate planning to hold a test vote Saturday.
Democrats say the votes are the first step toward forcing Bush to change course in a war that has killed more than 3,100 U.S. troops and lost favor with voters.
“This country needs a dramatic change of course in Iraq and it is the responsibility of this Congress to consummate that change,” said Rep. John Murtha, who chairs the House panel that oversees military spending.
Murtha, D-Pa., is preparing legislation that would set strict conditions on combat deployments, including a year rest between combat tours; ultimately, the congressman says, his measure would make it impossible for Bush to maintain his planned deployment of a total of about 160,000 troops for months on end.
Murtha’s proposal also might block the funding of military operations inside Iran Ã¢â‚¬â€ a measure intended to send a signal to Bush that he will need Congress’ blessing if he is planning another war.
“The president could veto it, but then he wouldn’t have any money,” Murtha told an anti-war group in an interview broadcast on movecongress.org.
In an interview Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., noted that Bush consistently said he supports a diplomatic resolution to differences with Iran “and I take him at his word.”
At the same time, she said, “I do believe that Congress should assert itself, though, and make it very clear that there is no previous authority for the president, any president, to go into Iran.”
Bush said at a news conference Wednesday he has no doubt the Iranian government is providing armor-piercing weapons to kill American troops in Iraq. But he backed away from claims by senior U.S. military officials in Baghdad that the top echelon of Iran’s government was responsible.
Administration critics have accused the president of looking for a pretense to attack Iran, at loggerheads with the United Nations about what Tehran says is a nuclear program aimed at developing energy for peaceful purposes.
In a speech Thursday, Bush said he expects Congress to live up to its promise to support the troops.
“We have a responsibility, Republicans and Democrats have a responsibility to give our troops the resources they need to do their job and the flexibility they need to prevail,” Bush said.
In the third day of a House debate on the war, GOP combat veterans spoke out against the Democratic resolution.
“The enemy wants our men and women in uniform to think their Congress doesn’t care about them,” said Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas, who was a prisoner of war during Vietnam. “We must learn from our mistakes. We cannot leave a job undone like we left in Korea, like we left in Vietnam, like we left in Somalia,” Johnson said.
Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, called the political maneuvering by Democrats “extremely dangerous.”
“It could stop reinforcements from arriving in time to stop major casualties in any of a number of scenarios,” said Hunter.
Democrats will have to fight critics in the Senate as well.
“I will do everything in my power to ensure the House resolution dies an inglorious death in the Senate,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
Associated Press writers Jim Abrams and David Espo contributed to this report.
Copyright Ã‚Â© 2007 The Associated Press