WASHINGTON - Two leading Senate Democrats are seeking to dispel concerns that a resolution on Iraq doesn't go far enough, saying it would make a strong statement to President Bush that a troop increase is wrong.
"It will be a very powerful message if a bipartisan majority of the Congress say that they disagree with the increased military involvement in Iraq," said Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee.
Division over whether Democrats should push a stronger measure could spell defeat for the resolution, he cautioned.
"The worst thing we can do is to vote on something which is critical of the current policy and lose it," said Levin, D-Mich. "If we lose that vote, the president will use the defeat of a resolution as support for his public policy."
Bush, meanwhile, says in a new interview that the best way to convince skeptics "that this makes sense is to implement it and show them that it works."
He also told USA Today in Monday's editions he will argue in his State of the Union speech next week that "what happens in Iraq matters to your security here at home."
Asked in the interview, conducted Friday, whether Iraq would be a problem after he leaves office in January 2009, Bush said: "The war on terror will be a problem for the next president. Presidents after me will be confronting ... an enemy that would like to strike the United States again."
The new Democratic-led Congress heads this week toward its first vote on the war, with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee planning to begin debate Wednesday on the nonbinding resolution condemning Bush's plan to send 21,500 more troops.
The proposal is largely symbolic and would have no effect on money for troops. It states that "it is not in the national interest of the United States to deepen its military involvement in Iraq, particularly by escalating the United States military force presence in Iraq."
The resolution has caused some division among Democrats who want to go further by cutting money for new troops; moderates in both parties who want softer language; and Republican leaders who have pledged to filibuster.
On Sunday, Levin and Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., who sponsored the resolution with Republicans Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Olympia Snowe of Maine, said their proposal was a first step. Other measures, such as limiting federal appropriations for the war, could come later if needed, they said.
Biden, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, played down the notion that support could splinter over how far lawmakers should go to restrain the president's power to wage war. He said he expected that each of the half-dozen competing proposals to oppose the war would get an airing.
"I don't think there's any muddled message here," Biden said. "They'll all get a chance to get voted on - basically all of them. And I think we'll have some discussion."
The proposals to limit the war vary.
Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., and Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., say they want to cut money for new troops to prevent the deployments. Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., has a proposal that would cap troops at existing levels.
Republican Sen. Gordon Smith of Oregon said he was wary of the term "escalating" in the resolution and was working with Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Ben Nelson, D-Neb., on a "constructive, nonpartisan resolution that expresses the opposition of the Senate to the surge."
Bush is expected to address the Iraq war in his State of the Union speech Tuesday and renew his calls to work together with Democrats on a bipartisan way forward.
Earlier that day, the Senate Armed Services Committee will hear from Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, a former division commander in Iraq who was tapped by Bush to replace Gen. George Casey as the top American commander in Iraq.
On Sunday, Biden said despite the competing proposals, there was overwhelming bipartisan support in Congress against the war. He said Vice President Dick Cheney was absolutely wrong in suggesting that a resolution against the war would "embolden our enemy."
Hagel suggested there may be more Republican support than is generally known for seeking a vote in Congress toward ending the war in Iraq.
"Let every member of the Senate express himself or herself," he said. "We owe that to the American public."
Biden and Levin were on "Fox News Sunday," and Hagel spoke on CBS' "Face the Nation."