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June 20, 2011

House Will Vote on Limiting or Ending Funding in Libya

Posted in: Uncategorized

This could be a consequential week for the President’s war in Libya. The House of Representatives will vote on limiting or ending funding for the military operation, and given the rising anger on both sides of the aisle about the abuse of war powers it just might pass.

Last week, Representative Dennis J. Kucinich, Democrat of Ohio, said he would offer an amendment to a spending bill for the Department of Defense that is expected to reach the House floor this week. The amendment would cut off current and future spending for military operations in Libya.

At least one Republican could propose a separate bill that would set terms for the financing of the Libya operation, Republican officials said. It would probably take a more narrow approach than the Kucinich amendment, cutting off spending for specific actions like Predator strikes. It also could prohibit the use of ground forces in the country. (There are no such American forces there now.)

“The next step is something we’ll discuss with the members,” Michael Steel, a spokesman for the House speaker, John A. Boehner, said on Sunday.

Normally I’d say that the more narrow, Republican-crafted bill will win. But after the bombshell about the President gaming the OLC process and ignoring the legally binding advice from that office about whether or not the Libya conflict represented “hostilities,” I do think anything is possible. John Boehner has been hinting at defunding for a week.

Congress can also say that the Administration cannot use any funds for the Libya mission starting today, because it has not been authorized by Congress and the OLC believes it is operating under a definition of war. That’s not a likely scenario.

Over in the Senate, most members keep saying the same thing: Congress needs to hold a vote on Libya, because the Administration argument that they are not engaged in hostilities makes no sense. But they won’t cut off funding. That has been the view of neocons Lindsey Graham and John McCain, and even Dick Durbin, who brazenly said on Meet the Press “It doesn’t pass a straight-face test in my view that we’re not in the midst of hostilities” but then added “what we should do is act on a timely basis to pass Congressional authorization under the War Powers Act” without using the power of the purse.

As Marian Wang says in her rundown, Presidents violating the War Powers Act is nothing new. Normally they argue against its constitutionality. Here we have a President unwilling to do that, so he just refuses to call a war a war. And if Congress doesn’t have a clear and unified response, he’ll get away with it.

The voters want to see a change generally. Removing America’s military from foreign soil has 72% support. When you change from the abstract to the specific I imagine that number goes down. But when the US Conference of Mayors, the group of elected officials closest to the people, seems poised to pass an antiwar resolution with respect to Afghanistan, they seem like the first layer of attention to the problem of an overextended military. That is connected to runaway war powers. So how, and if, Congress deals with this usurping of their Constitutional authority is important, if not for Libya then for the next set of wars under a President Bachmann.

Meanwhile, a NATO bomb killed 9 civilians in Tripoli yesterday in an errant strike that NATO even acknowledged.

UPDATE: Just to respond with my hive mind to John Cole, if you think that the Supreme Court of the executive branch and the President’s personal lawyer are equally viable opinions you can pick and choose from in these matters, you’re a bit wrong. Also, the problem here is that the President circumvented the OLC process, and reduced a legally binding check on the power of the executive branch to just one opinion among many. If I could go to court and select the advice of my lawyer on a legal issue rather than the judge, I’d take it! Adam Serwer backs me up here.

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