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How Congress may block a troop 'surge'

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But to wield that power, he needs the president to submit a request for additional defense spending before a "surge" of new troops into Iraq. So far, all war funding has been handled that way – as supplemental requests to Congress outside the normal budget process.

In the next two months, his subcommittee will hold hearings to document the state of readiness of US forces and build support for writing benchmarks and conditions into the next defense spending bill.

On a faster track, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts proposed legislation this week that would require the president to come back to the Congress and get authority for deploying additional American troops to Iraq. "I am introducing legislation to reclaim the rightful role of Congress and the people's right to a full voice in the president's plan to send more troops to Iraq," he said in an address at the National Press Club on Tuesday.

"No one – no one – can seriously deny that this civil war is radically different from the mission Congress voted for in 2002," he added.

On the House side, Rep. Edward Markey (D) of Massachusetts is proposing a similar resolution to require Congress to expressly authorize any escalation of the war in Iraq. "After more than 3,000 American casualties, over $300 billion in expenditures, and almost four years of fighting, an increase in the number of members of the US Armed Forces deployed in Iraq above the current level of 132,000 is the wrong course of action," he says.

Representative Murtha worries that if Democrats settle for a quick, symbolic gesture, they could curb momentum for stronger action on the spending side. Should the president veto the Kennedy resolution, or another like it, it would require a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate to override the veto. "It's not clear we have it," he says.

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