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A Derelict Congress Unwilling to Exercise Its War Powers

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Dueling resolutions from Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner and Democratic House Representative Dennis Kucinich sparked a debate in Congress. The debate centered around the War Powers Act, the US Constitution and whether President Obama had violated the law by taking the United States into a war in Libya.

The Kucinich Resolution (H.R. Con. Res. 251) aimed to direct the president, pursuant to the War Powers Act, to remove all troops from Libya within fifteen days after the resolution was adopted. It was an attempt to force Congress to exercise the authority that it has under the Constitution to decide when and where troops are deployed for wars and whether or not wars should be launched.

In contrast, the Boehner Resolution (H.R. Con. Res. 292) was offered by Speaker Boehner to take the wind out of the sails of the growing bipartisan movement, consisting of anti-war Democrats and anti-interventionist Republicans, who were ready to assert Congress' legislative authority and oppose the further expansion of the Executive by the Obama Administration that has taken place as a result of the Libya War.

The resolution brought by Rep. Kucinich failed 148-265. Speaker Boehner's resolution passed 268-145.

The passage effectively stymied Rep. Kucinich's genuine attempt to bring an end to the shirking of constitutional responsibilities in matters of war and peace in Congress. It aimed to halt the operations that had been initiated by the Obama Administration without congressional approval. But, as evidenced by the debate, despite the near unanimous recognition that seventy-seven days into the war the Obama Administration has the US embroiled in an illegal war and Congress has abdicated its responsibility, the majority of representatives in the House were reluctant to actually exercise the authority, which the Constitution grants them.

Representatives, who understood the weight of the moment, attempted to reason and convince a servile and overwhelmingly deferential majority that there needed to be action. They called out Speaker Boehner for offering a resolution that sidestepped the responsibility Congress is supposed to uphold.


Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN), who co-sponsored the Kucinich Resolution, expressed his concern with what Boehner had put forth for debate. The resolution, Burton said, reads, "The president shall not deploy, establish or maintain the presence of units and members of the United States armed forces on the ground in Libya."

Most of our wars that we fight now are fought from the air or from battleships. We've had about 250 missiles fired in Libya and about 226 of them are American. We've spent over three quarters of a billion dollars already and it will probably go over a billion. Now boots on the ground says that were not going to put troops into Libya, but we've got ships off shore, we've got planes in the air, we've got airmen who are at risk every single day and we're committing military forces in Libya even though we don't have boots on the ground.

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Representatives Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) both addressed the folly of the Boehner resolution. Rep. Lee said the debate was long overdue and noted on March 30 she and a few other representatives had sent a letter to Speaker Boehner and Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor urging debate and a floor vote on the president's authority to continue to use force in Libya. More than sixty days later, Speaker Boehner suddenly scheduled a vote on a resolution that Rep. Lee said "politicizes a serious issue." And, Rep. Woolsey noted the House overwhelmingly passed a Kucinich Amendment two weeks ago that was similar to what was being debated today but Speaker Boehner did not want to let Congress do the right thing so a resolution to "take the air out of questions over the War Powers Act" was being considered.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) stood on the House floor and took a sledgehammer to every justification and reason for supporting the Boehner Resolution and not asserting the authority granted to Congress under the War Powers Act.

... This is innocuous legislation. First it starts with a sense of Congress about our opinion as to what should and shouldn't be done. It has a sentence that purports to prevent the president from putting ground forces in Libya but in fact just states that that's our policy. It's certainly not designed to prevent him from doing so it just says it's our opinion that he shouldn't...

Noting that the Boehner Resolution would hopefully require a number of questions be answered, Rep. Sherman added:

... Those who think that the questions propounded in this legislation are actually going to get us useful information are insulting the faculty of the law schools of America. Because both the Pentagon and the State Dept have lawyers capable of writing long and meaningless answers to every question we propound. And, as for getting documents, some of the documents we already have and some those same lawyers will be writing long documents about executive privilege. So we have here a document that is at most the questions for the record that the chairwoman of our committee allows me to add at the end of so many hearings...

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He went further charging the resolution was actually designed to ensure Congress did not fulfill its constitutional duty and make it possible for Congress to "sidestep" the War Powers Act.

...It gives cover to those who don't want to authorize or refuse to authorize. It says we're an advisory body. We ask some questions so we can give you good advice. We'll give the president some advice. It is part of the trend of an aggrandizing executive and a derelict Congress. A Congress that almost is complicit in this long process, where we are not deciders. We do not become legislators. We inquire and we advise.

Representative Ted Poe (R-TX) and Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) put it even more bluntly. Rep. Nadler stated, "Shall the president like the King of England be a dictator of foreign policy, shall the president have the unfettered right to take this country to war?" Rep. Poe said he had served on the bench in Texas for over twenty years and tried several criminal cases and he remembers following the law. Not once did he sentence a person and later have the trial to prove sentencing him had been a good idea.

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Kevin Gosztola is a writer and curator of Firedoglake's blog The Dissenter, a blog covering civil liberties in the age of technology. He is an editor for OpEdNews.com and a former intern and videographer for The Nation Magazine.And, he's the (more...)
 

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