Kennedy seeks to block buildup


WASHINGTON (AP) – Sen. Edward Kennedy, one of President Bush’s fiercest anti-war critics, said Tuesday he hopes to throw up a legislative roadblock against Bush’s expected call for up to 20,000 more troops in Iraq.

Kennedy, D-Mass., flexing his political muscle in the new Democratic majority, is pushing a bill to deny Bush the billions of dollars in funding needed for a troop buildup unless Congress first approves. Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., is filing a similar measure in the House.

“We cannot simply speak out against an escalation of troops in Iraq,” Kennedy said. “We must act to prevent it.”

The legislation is expected to spark broader debate on Capitol Hill over steps lawmakers eager to curb Bush’s war strategy should take.

Kennedy warned that Bush’s anticipated call for extra troops, to be outlined Wednesday night in a nationally televised address, would “exact a fearsome toll” of American lives.

“Such an escalation would be a policy of desperation built on denial and fantasy,” Kennedy said in a speech at the National Press Club. “It is ‘stay the course’ under another name.”

The White House said it would have more to say about Kennedy’s proposal later this week.

“We’ll take a look at it,” White House spokesman Tony Snow told reporters. “I’m sure that later in the week we’ll have an opportunity to respond more specifically.”

Citing the war’s unpopularity, Kennedy said Congress must hold Bush accountable for the “quagmire” in Iraq.

“The president’s speech must be the beginning – not the end – of a new national discussion of our policy in Iraq,” Kennedy said.

“Then let us vote on it in the light of day. Let the American people hear – yes or no -where their elected representatives stand on one of the greatest challenges of our time.”

Congressional Democrats, however, are split over whether they should try to cut funding for Bush’s expected troop buildup. Republicans say more American forces are needed to quell growing bloodshed in Iraq.

Sitting next to Kennedy on the podium was Brian Hart of Bedford, Mass., who lost his 20-year-old son John in Iraq in 2003. The younger Hart, an Army private, was defending his patrol from ambush, Kennedy noted.

“Brian and his wife Alma turned that enormous personal tragedy into a remarkable force for change,” Kennedy said. “He’s worked skillfully and tirelessly ever since to ensure that our soldiers have better equipment to protect them.”

The Harts have worked with Kennedy and others to make sure soldiers in Iraq have proper equipment such as armored Humvees.

Kennedy stressed that his proposal would not “diminish our support for the forces we already have in Iraq.”

AP-ES-01-09-07 1744EST