Wednesday, September 4, 2013

What will Congress vote on?

Congress, whose main output is words, is beginning to fight over which words to use on Syria policy. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee may vote as early as today on draft language worked out between the chairman and ranking Republican, Senators Menendez and Corker. Meanwhile, two House Democrats, who both worked on the Foreign Relations Committee decades ago, are circulating language approving military action but trying to limit the scope and duration of its use. No doubt other amendments will be offered in the Senate Committee today and later in the House.

That's good. Congress should act in some definitive way on the president's request, and the Senate language looks reasonable as a way of giving constrained support for military action. The most likely amendments, I would guess, would be measures authorizing support to the Syrian opposition short of U.S. troops.

Each member of Congress is probably calculating, How will it look at the next election if I vote for this, and we wind up in a messy war, or if I vote against it and Assad makes further use of chemical weapons? They remember the many Democrats who voted against the 1991 war against Iraq and later regretted their votes, as well as those who voted for the 2003 war against Iraq [like John Kerry and Hillary Clinton] and later regretted those votes.

It's worth noting, by the way, that because the language specifically invokes the 1973 War Powers Act, the measure is guaranteed expedited floor consideration, with no filibuster allowed in the Senate.

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