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One Little Word That Could Kill Obama’s War Powers Request

The debate over President Obama's authority to use the U.S. armed forces to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria might just come down to the definition of the word "enduring."

This is ironic – considering it's just a few weeks after the administration celebrated the end of Operation Enduring Freedom (italics mine), which kept U.S. troops in Afghanistan for more than a decade.

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Since the summer, some lawmakers have wanted the administration to seek formal congressional approval of ongoing military actions against ISIS in Iraq and Syria – actions thathave cost the country $1.86 billion so far, and will likely get even more expensive in the future, according to the National Priorities Project,. In his recent budget proposal, the president asked Congress for another $5.3 billion for the fight against ISIS in fiscal 2016.

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To put the costs of the anti-ISIS operation in perspective, the country is spending about $7.5 million per day on the operation. By contrast, the war in Afghanistan cost the country as much as $244 million per day. Costs for the latter, however, are winding down. In his budget proposal for 2016, Obama requested a net reduction of 21 percent in appropriations for the Overseas Contingency Operations fund, which pays for much of the military's activities in the Middle East.

The U.S. Capitol.
Getty Images
The U.S. Capitol.

As promised, the administration on Wednesday delivered its draft language for an Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) to Congress, effectively seeking lawmakers' approval of the ongoing fight against ISIS. The proposal – which is less than three full pages – would repeal the existing AUMF from 2002 that gave President Bush the authority to send troops into Iraq and which the Obama administration has been using to justify current actions against ISIS. The proposal would also sunset after three years, requiring further congressional authorization to extend the conflict.

Some lawmakers, including Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), have pressed for any new AUMF to include strong limits on the use of U.S. ground forces, and the administration's proposal does. Sort of.

The draft language reads: "The authority granted … does not authorize the use of the United States Armed Forces in enduring offensive ground combat operations."

To Kaine and others concerned about the possibility of the current administration and future presidents trying to stretch the limits of the AUMF, the word "enduring" is a giant red flag.

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"I am concerned about the breadth and vagueness of the U.S. ground troop language and will seek to clarify it," Kaine said in a statement on Wednesday. "I look forward to a robust debate, along with amendments and votes, that will inform the American public about our mission…" He added he wanted to ensure the U.S. "is vigorously assisting nations willing to battle their own terrorist threat, rather than carrying the unsustainable burden of policing a region that won't police itself."

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), however, appeared to have a very different reaction, warning the language was too limiting.

"ISIL is at war with our country and our allies," Boehner said. "If we are going to defeat this enemy, we need a comprehensive military strategy and a robust authorization, not one that limits our options. Any [AUMF] must give our military commanders the flexibility and authorities they need to succeed and protect our people. While I believe an AUMF against ISIL is important, I have concerns that the president's request does not meet this standard."

Obama is scheduled to speak about the request this afternoon.