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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.

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One concern: What message does the vote send?

Another reason some members of Congress may have gotten cold feet about voting to cut off military funding is their concern over how the measure might have been interpreted.

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Even before Friday’s vote, a number of officials had warned that the message sent by a congressional “no” vote on Libya would reach beyond the White House to the Pentagon, and on to America’s NATO allies and even to Col. Qaddafi’s compound in Tripoli.

Opponents of the measure warned that its passage could weaken perceptions of the US as a reliable ally. “If we want our allies to stand by us in our time of need in Afghanistan, we have to stand by them in places like Libya,” said the House minority whip, Steny Hoyer (D) of Maryland. “We’re either in an alliance or we’re not.”

In pre-vote comments to reporters, House Speaker John Boehner said he did not want the House to do “anything that would undermine NATO or … send a signal to our allies around the world that we are not going to be engaged.”

But officials at the Pentagon said that is exactly the signal a vote to cut funding would send. Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said Thursday that a vote against the Libya operations would send an “unhelpful message of disunity” to both sides in the conflict.

Unsupportive congressional action in the midst of military action “can have significant consequences,” Mr. Morrell said, pointing in particular to the potential impact on relations with NATO allies.

In an interview Friday, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told the French newspaper Le Figaro that any cutoff of US funding “would of course be damaging to the Libyan operation,” but he added that he was confident that, in the end, “American lawmakers will take their global responsibility seriously.”

But supporters of the measure, left and right, saw their demand for congressional action differently.

“We call on our colleagues in Congress to exercise their legitimate authority and oversight and immediately block any funding for this war,” the 75-member Congressional Progressive Caucus said in a statement earlier this week. “Before the Executive branch further weakens the War Powers Resolution, and before we attack another country in the name of our ‘responsibility to protect,’ we must recommit ourselves to our Constitutional duty and obligation to hold the purse strings and the right to declare war.”

The funding bill that had been expected to pass ended up losing, 180-238. But while that was perhaps cause for a White House sigh of relief, Obama could hardly declare victory, some Washington political experts said.

The reason? The resolution that would have marked House support for Libya operations for one year was also roundly defeated Friday morning, by an even wider margin: 123-295.

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