Last fall, after anti-war protestors staged a sit-in at his Chapel Hill office, U.S. Rep. David Price became a key backer of an alternative resolution on Iraq. The Spratt resolution would have required the Bush administration to get Congress to sign off on any military operations that lacked United Nations backing–and only after non-military options had been exhausted.

Although the measure failed by a vote of 155 to 270, Democrat Price still feels it had a restraining effect on Bush’s drive toward war. “I think those 155 votes made a difference,” he says. “Congress has an advise and consent role which the president ignores at his peril.”

But anyone waiting for Democratic lawmakers to stage another push-back against the administration’s plans for war in Iraq will likely be disappointed. While Democrats don’t necessarily agree with the type of unilateral military action that Bush described in his recent State of the Union address, “Congress is in a pretty weak position on this, partly because of the vote [on the Iraq resolution] that was taken earlier,” Price says. “I think the Democrats will continue to play a mixed role–showing concern about the threat from Iraq and for our troops, but at the same time, offering some very clear warnings about the dangers of proceeding without allied support.”

It’s a difficult dance–one that Price says was discussed at great length at a retreat held last weekend for House Democrats. “We spent a good deal of time talking about national security and how to effectively position ourselves,” Price says. “There was a lot of concern about being labeled unpatriotic or not taking the threat [from Iraq] seriously. People are choosing their words carefully.”

While Democrats may not be united on the war issue, Price says party members have been sounding some consistent, critical themes. The main ones are that the Bush administration hasn’t made a clear enough case for why war in Iraq is justified, and that focusing on Iraq will “preempt our entire anti-terrorist agenda.” (Price says he kept track of the number of times Saddam Hussein was mentioned in Bush’s State of the Union speech, compared to Osama bin Laden. The final tally was Hussein 16, bin Laden, 0).

Price recently signed a letter circulating in the House that urges Bush to pursue diplomatic means of disarming Iraq, and to do so with the full support of U.S. allies and the United Nations. He says he will continue to express concerns about the “risks and costs” of military solutions in Iraq, as well as the Bush administration’s lack of attention to other foreign policy hot spots–most notably, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

But don’t expect the Democrats to be a loud or unified voice against the current war fever in Washington.

When it comes to Iraq, “you can’t equivocally say there is no threat,” Price says. “So there is not an out and out opposition. Our response reflects the complexities of the situation we face. I think it’s a tough time coming.”