Last week, the House adopted amendments to the annual Defense Authorization Bill signaling rising discontent with the use of military force abroad – but also demonstrated the limits of its bravery.
These votes came as a number of Members of Congress denounced the Obama Administration for ignoring the War Powers Act enacted in 1973 over President Richard Nixon’s veto.
Most significantly, the House came close to a majority vote against the Afghanistan War for the first time when it narrowly rejected 204 – 215 an amendment by Reps. Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Walter Jones (R-NC) to require a timetable to bring American troops home from that country.
Over 90% of the Democrats, who had previously been split on the war, voted for the withdrawal, including the modestly hawkish House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD). Only eight Democrats dissented. Twenty six Republicans joined with the Democratic majority, a significant pickup in a party that has tended to support the wars.
Last year, a similar McGovern-Jones won only 162 votes at a time when Democrats dominated the House.
An amendment offered by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) and 17 of his colleagues barring funds to deploy U.S. troops or private security contractors on the ground in Libya swept through by the astonishing margin of 416 – 5.
A second amendment offered by Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ) stating that Congress has not authorized military action in Libya was adopted by voice vote.
While there is a rising tide of discontent with the American military engagement abroad, there are limits to how far Congress is willing to go.
As I have previously written on congressional complaints about Libya:
Presidents commit U.S. troops overseas; Members of Congress do a lot of speechifying; but Congress fails to utilize the power it has either to authorize force or cut off the use of funds to continue the war. To paraphrase Pogo, “We have met the enemy and he is Congress.”
Last week, during a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, several Member of both parties attacked Obama for refusing to abide by the 60 day limit of American troop involvement overseas without congressional approval.
Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) opined: “It’s time for Congress to step forward. It’s time to stop shredding the U.S. Constitution.”
It may be time, but don’t expect Congress to go that far.
Congress has not declared war against another country since 1941 despite numerous conflicts since that time.
Congress can force the withdrawal of U.S. troops by cutting off funding for the war. It is simply not willing to.
The House wants to persuade the President to withdraw troops rather than take responsibility to force and end to military involvement.
Similarly, while the House wants to block further U.S. military escalation in Libya, it has not been willing to stop the U.S. bombing and logistical operations over and around Libya.
This week, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) will offer a resolution under the War Powers Act to remove U.S. armed forces from Libya. If the House permits a vote on his resolution, don’t expect the vote total to get into the triple digits.