Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Roberts says war with Syria likely

By PETER HANCOCK, The Lawrence Journal-World

U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts said today that it appears the United States is headed for war in Syria, especially in light of recent reports that government forces there used chemical weapons against Syrian rebels.

"I don't see any way out of it," the Kansas Republican said in a speech to the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce during a luncheon this afternoon. "I think (President Barack Obama) has to use military force."

But Roberts said he believes the American people are "war-weary" and he does not believe military action will involve sending ground forces into Syria.

"We're not going to put boots on the ground," he said. "I don't think this president would put boots on the ground anyway. He is taking boots off the ground. He did that in Iraq."

Roberts' comments came on the same day that the White House said it was considering military options, but that those options do not involve taking down the regime of Syrian President Bashar Hafez al-Assad.

During his speech in Lawrence, Roberts indicated that he doesn't believe the president has decided what the aim of any U.S. military action should be. And he strongly urged the president to consult with Congress before taking any action.

"Whatever is done is going to have to be done strategically and with considerable thought, and really change the outcome of what happens in regards to Syria," Roberts said. "I am not sure the president is ready to do that."

Roberts was in Lawrence Tuesday as part of a statewide tour while Congress takes its traditional August recess.

In his remarks to the Chamber of Commerce audience, Roberts also spoke about several other issues pending in Washington, including the possibility of a federal government shutdown if Congress cannot agree on a budget before Oct. 1.

Some congressional Republicans have talked about refusing to pass a budget that includes funding for the Affordable Care Act, also known as "Obamacare." And the president has indicated he will not sign a budget that does not include funding for his foremost legislative program.

Starting Oct. 1, people without insurance can start shopping for subsidized coverage in state-based exchange markets. And starting Jan. 1, most adults will fall under a mandate to either have health insurance or pay a tax penalty.

Roberts, who has been a staunch opponent of that program, said he doesn't believe the federal government is ready to implement those provisions.

"Even though it's been three years since the bill was passed, you'd think people would have enough time to at least figure out what the exchange is going to be," Roberts said. "We don't know what the questions (are) that you are going to ask me. I don't know, they don't know. That's the problem."

But Roberts said he doesn't know whether the sharp and partisan divisions over health reform will lead to a government shutdown.

"It may come to that because people think this is such a serious issue," Roberts said. "I still don't think that will happen. I think there will be an alternative. What that alternative is, I don't know, but we will have meaningful dialog in the Republican caucus."