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House sends a muddled message on Libya: no support, but funding untouched

In a confusing pair of votes, US House said Friday it won't stop paying for the US intervention in Libya, but it won’t vote to support it, either.

By Staff writer / June 24, 2011

Steny Hoyer (D) of Maryland speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in this 2010 file photo. The minority whip urged representatives to vote against a measure to cut funding for Libya operations, saying that it would send a dangerous message about US commitment to its allies. The measure was voted down Friday morning.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP / File

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Washington

The House of Representatives sent the White House a muddled message on Libya Friday.

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After first rejecting a measure in support of US military participation in the NATO-led operation, the House went on to defeat a cutoff of funding for US involvement in the Libya war that Republican leaders had considered a sure thing.

For weeks, members of Congress and congressional experts had predicted that a strange-bedfellows coalition of House anti-war Democrats and fiscally-conservative Republicans would castigate President Obama for his unilateral engagement of the United States in the war in Libya. But when the vote was called Friday afternoon, the House stunned many observers, including party leaders, by defeating a measure to scale back US participation in the NATO-led operation in Libya by cutting funding.

Some observers suggest that the bill felt like a halfway measure by cutting some, but not all, funding for US military participation in Libya. Others point to concerns felt by many – in Congress, at the Pentagon, and abroad – that a vote to cut funding would send the wrong message to US allies and even the forces of Libyan commander Muammar Qaddafi.

Why didn’t Congress cut funding for the Libyan conflict?

One explanation for the defeat, some congressional experts said, was that it may not have gone far enough. Those who wanted an unequivocal rejection of Mr. Obama’s unilateral launching of the US into the Libya hostilities, whether Republicans or Democrats, were unwilling to support what they considered a halfway measure.

The House bill would have cut off funding for US airstrikes while leaving untouched the purely supportive elements of US participation in the Libya mission: such things as intelligence operations, aerial refueling, and reconnaissance flights.

The vote was largely symbolic in any case, since few expected the Senate to go along, even if the House had approved the funding cut.

By Friday, US participation in the Libya war had passed the 100-day mark. That number is significant, because the House rebellion was sparked by what members say was Obama’s disregard for the Vietnam-war-era War Powers Act, which requires a president to seek congressional authorization for “hostilities” lasting over 60 days.

The White House last week issued an opinion saying that the US is largely playing a “supportive” role in the NATO campaign and that what the US is engaged in does not constitute “hostilities” – a view that further infuriated House members.

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