House May Vote This Week on Money for Libya Strikes

Jennifer Stenhauer

The House appears likely to vote this week on a measure that would limit financing for the American military efforts in Libya, using the chamber’s appropriations power to push back against the White House, which did not seek Congressional authorization for the mission.

BENGHAZI, LIBYA - FEBRUARY 25: Libyans protest demanding the removal of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi following Friday prayers on February 25, 2011 in Benghazi, Libya. Benghazi residents mourned more victims of the violence as fighting continued around the capitol Tripoli.
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Any measures to end or reduce financing for the military’s involvement in the NATO-led airstrikes in Libya are likely to divide members of Congress. They are split in both the House and Senate between two slightly incongruous alliances: antiwar Democrats and Republicans who are angry about the usurping of Congressional authority, and Democrats who do not wish to go against the president, joined by hawkish Republicans who strongly support America’s role in Libya.

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.)

Middle East Turmoil

“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.

In recent weeks, Mr. Boehner has warned President Obama that his administration is in violation of the War Powers Resolution for failing to seek authorization from Congress for the United States’s military involvement in the NATO operations in Libya, meant to protect civilians there and put pressure on its leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.

Under some lawmakers’ interpretation of the resolution, Mr. Obama would need to terminate or scale back the mission after Monday, barring such authorization. Mr. Obama has responded by saying that American operations are limited and do not rise to “hostilities” as defined in the War Powers Resolution, and, therefore, Congressional authority is unnecessary.

The question of financing the operations gained urgency over the weekend after an article in The New York Times revealed that President Obama had rejected the views of top lawyers at the Pentagon and the Justice Department in deciding that he had the legal authority to continue American participation in the air war in Libya without Congressional authorization.

Earlier this month, Mr. Kucinich offered a resolution that called for a withdrawal of the military from the air and naval operations in and around Libya within 15 days. The measure failed (though many Republicans voted for it) only because Mr. Boehner offered an 11th-hour resolution of his own, simply to rebuke Mr. Obama for failing to seek Congressional approval. That resolution passed, 268 to 145.

As more lawmakers become impatient with the Libya mission, there may be more pressure on House members to rein in spending there.

“Congress must use its constitutional authority of the power of the purse to end this war,” Mr. Kucinich said in a written statement. “My amendment will provide the first test whether this Congress will defend its own authority under Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution.”

Mr. Boehner and many other Republicans are torn, wanting to chastise the Obama administration yet loath to pull out of a NATO operation, which they said would be a poor signal to American allies.

The argument posed by the White House — that air operations and support of NATO’s operations do not constitute war — has been rejected by members of both parties.

On the NBC program “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois and the assistant majority leader, said, “It doesn’t pass a straight-face test in my view that we’re not in the midst of hostilities.”

He added: “We are engaged in hostilities in Libya. What we should do is act on a timely basis to pass Congressional authorization under the War Powers Act.” He said, however, that he would not support cutting off financing for the operations.

Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said on the same program: “The president has done a lousy job of communicating and managing our involvement in Libya. But I will be no part of an effort to defund Libya or try to cut off our efforts to bring Qaddafi down. If we fail against Qaddafi, that’s the end of NATO.”

Other senators — including John McCain, Republican of Arizona — have criticized House Republicans for moving against Mr. Obama on this issue.

On “Fox News Sunday,” Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates defended Mr. Obama’s interpretation of the War Powers Resolution and suggested that Congress would be mistaken to move to block spending on the mission.

“Frankly, I think cutting off funding in the middle of a military operation when we have people engaged is always a mistake,” he said, adding: “I believe that President Obama has complied with the law, consistent in a manner with virtually all of his predecessors. I don’t think he’s breaking any new ground here.”