THIS WEEK, our own Sen. Arlen Specter challenged the president's notion that he is the sole decider when it comes to what to do in Iraq.

Said Specter, "I would suggest respectfully to the president that he is not the sole decider . . . The decider is a shared and joint responsibility" with Congress.

Specter is right, but unfortunately his words come too little, too late. When it comes to waging war, indeed, Congress does have a constitutional say in the matter – when it decides to authorize or not authorize the president to wage war. That time came in late 2002, when Specter and the majority of those in the House and Senate voted to give this president a blank check.

They could have asked tough questions then: How many troops will it take to secure Iraq? What do we know about an insurgency that may form? Can you give us incontrovertible evidence that Saddam does have weapons of mass destruction, even though United Nations Inspector Hans Blix says Saddam may not?

Having missed that opportunity to assert itself before the war, the only recourse the Congress has if it does not wish to continue is to cut off funding for the war. Such a move, being promoted by a select few in Congress, is largely thought to be irresponsible, for it would necessitate an immediate pullout from Iraq, without any concern for an orderly transition to full Iraqi control, or protection of our troops.

However, this does not mean our legislative bodies should keep silent on the issue. As our representatives in Washington, they have a duty to go on the record to register the opinion of more than 60 percent of the American people – steadfastly against an escalation of this war.

While the Congress has little legal recourse left to change the course of the war, what they still do have is the power to influence the political atmosphere. If the president is to ever adopt a responsible policy for Iraq, it will only begin when he feels isolated and in danger of relegating his party to long-term minority status.

If Specter is serious about changing the course in Iraq, he will back up his words with an important vote for Biden-Hagel. (If you agree, call Sen. Specter and let him know. His office can be reached at 202-224-4254.) *