U.S. Legislators Line Up Behind Nation's Troops

Times Staff Writers

An edgy Congress, confronting the growing prospect of war with Iraq, rallied behind U.S. troops on Monday despite some lawmakers' concerns that President Bush had not built a broader international coalition of allies for the conflict.

"I have had disagreements with the way in which the president has forged our nation's policy toward Iraq over the past six months, [but] I stand fully behind our troops who may be going into harm's way," Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said in a typical comment.

Lawmakers also are girding for their next responsibility in the event of war: providing the money needed to finance the attack and, presuming U.S. success, the postwar reconstruction of Iraq.

Bush has not yet said how much money he would need for both tasks, but some estimates put the price tag at $100 billion and beyond.

The uncertainty about war costs is casting a long shadow over Congress' debate this week on the annual budget resolution, a measure that is the first test of Bush's ability to win the $726-billion tax-cut measure he has proposed to stimulate the economy. Democrats -- and some Republicans -- want to postpone a decision on the tax cut issue until after more is known about war expenses and their effect on the already burgeoning budget deficit.

Bush moved to solidify congressional support for his Iraqi policy Monday by briefing House and Senate leaders at the White House a few hours before he gave a televised address to the nation. After he left the meeting, Vice President Dick Cheney and national security advisor Condoleezza Rice stayed to answer questions.

Afterward, a sober Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said: "I think we have no alternative now" but to support the imminent war.

He added: "I have supported all along the need to remove [Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein or his weapons. It's easy to second-guess what we should have done on the way to this point. But we are here."

Bush does not need congressional approval to act. Lawmakers had their say in October, when they approved by large margins a resolution authorizing Bush to use military force to disarm Iraq if diplomatic efforts failed.

But Bush's efforts to rally international support in the United Nations for action against Iraq met with more opposition than many U.S. officials anticipated. Democrats, especially presidential candidates such as Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, who supported the October resolution, have not hesitated of late to fault the administration on the diplomatic front.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) said, "I'm saddened, saddened that this president failed so miserably at diplomacy that we're now forced to war."

But with war in the air, lawmakers generally adopted a conciliatory tone.

"The question of the moment is not whether we endorse the foreign policies of the Bush administration," said Lieberman, a contender for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination. "It is time to come together and support our men and women in uniform and their commander in chief." There remained some critical voices, even on the brink of war. Rep. George Miller (D-Martinez) called Bush's decision to give up on the U.N. "reckless and unnecessary."

Bush's allies questioned the propriety of such comments. "There is a proper time and place for vigorous debate, but now is the time for America to speak with one voice," said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas).

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