Monday, June 27, 2011

lessons from the House Libya votes

What do the House votes on Libya measures mean? 1. House members care more about making political points than asserting their Constitutional powers over war and peace. 2. There is no majority either to authorize continued military action or to cut off funds for it.

On Friday, the House voted down a joint resolution, following the wording of the Kerry-McCain measure pending in the Senate, that would authorize continued U.S. participation in the Libya operations but disavow the use of ground troops. The vote was 123-225, with all but 8 Republicans in opposition. The House also voted down a bill to limit U.S. involvement to search and rescue, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, aerial refueling, and operational planning. The vote there was 180-238, with 144 Republicans for it and 149 Democrats against. The problem with the second measure was that it authorized more than many congressmen wanted and yet was depicted as a sharp rebuke the the President. Doves didn't like the first fact, and Democrats were persuaded by the second.

On Tuesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is supposed to consider amendments to the Kerry-McCain resolution. Senator Lugar [R-Ind.] is proposing several changes, including: a legally binding prohibition on ground troops and a narrowing of  missions as in the failed House bill.

I think the Senate can pass the Kerry-McCain measure, perhaps with the ground troop ban and other rhetoric about the need for further authorization down the road. If so, then the House has to decide whether to agree, punt, or negotiate modest changes.  The only thing that counts in legal terms is what Congress can send to the President and get signed into law.

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