Powerful purse: Congress can control the war through spending

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President Bush and the Congress have stepped up their exchange of fire over more money for the Iraq war as the holiday recess and the January presidential contests draw near.

Mr. Bush has asked for an additional $200 billion for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, on top of the $482 billion Department of Defense budget already approved. The House passed a bill offering $50 billion, with a requirement that withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq be completed for the most part by the end of next year. The Senate version is tangled up with GOP talk of a filibuster and a veto by Mr. Bush.

The president went on the attack Thursday, asking for the $200 billion and accusing Democrats of undermining the troops with uncertainty over the extra funding. In doing so he signalled Republican electoral strategy, which will suggest that Democrats are not supporting U.S. forces if they don't give him the money he seeks.

The argument comes down to the question of do the troops stay or go. A clear majority of Americans believe the country has spent enough time, money and lives on what has been a pointless, endless war. There is no doubt that the additional "surge" this year of another 30,000 U.S. troops, bringing the total in Iraq up to nearly 170,000, has brought some additional security there. But for Mr. Bush to call that "success" in the absence of evidence of political reconciliation among Shiites. Sunnis and Kurds and of any semblance of coherent government there is to insult Americans' intelligence.

What the Congress must do now, if Mr. Bush continues to refuse the $50 billion with conditions, is simply to pass no bill, leaving the Pentagon to finance its activities with the $482 billion it has already been authorized. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and the contractors behind the scenes will undoubtedly squawk, and the Republicans will posture politically, but the Democrats in the Congress, whom the electorate has counted on since November 2006 to bring the war to an end, will just have to take the heat.


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