What happens if House cuts funding for Libya mission?

The House could break with tradition this week and vote to stop funding for the US mission in Libya. But that would not be the last word.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP/File
House majority leader Eric Cantor (R) exits the House chamber in Washington after the Republican-controlled House adopted a resolution on June 3 rebuking President Obama for dispatching US military forces against Libya without congressional approval.

Unhappy with President Obama's decision to commit US resources to Libya, the House of Representatives this week may do something Congress has rarely done: vote to end funding of US military operations the president has ordered.

An unlikely coalition of antiwar Democrats and Republicans claiming that Mr. Obama has violated the 1973 War Powers Resolution could put a Libya amendment to a Pentagon spending bill over the top. Just don’t expect that to end US participation in the NATO-led Libya military campaign any time soon.

For one thing, the Senate, which seems much less disposed than the House to a funding cutoff, would still have to vote on the amendment, and it is not expected to take up the spending bill for weeks.

And even if the Senate were to approve the spending bill with the amendment, Obama might decide to veto it – putting off implementation yet again. The NATO operation, which currently appears stuck in a stalemate, could be over by then.

Historically, Congress has been loath to tie the president’s hands in matters of military action, and has approved fewer than a half-dozen measures to cut off funding – all directed either at military operations in Southeast Asia (the 1970s) or Somalia (1993).

But one amendment, authored by antiwar Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D) of Ohio calls for cutting off all funding for the Libya military operations. Some House Republicans have added different concerns, charging Obama with violating the War Powers Act. The War Powers Act requires the president to withdraw all US forces involved in a military operation within 90 days of the start of hostilities if Congress has not approved funding. Obama, claiming the Libya operation does not constitute “hostilities,” has opined that the War Powers Resolution does not apply.

“The only reason to think this [amendment] might pass in the House is that there are no American boots on the ground, so while it’s a question of voting against the president it’s not about voting against the troops,” says Charles Pena, a senior fellow at the Independent Institute in Washington. “Even so, Congress has never been quick to deny a president the ability to use military force under almost any circumstances, and I just don’t see the votes to do that now."

Obama is almost certain to remain free to carry on the Libya operation, Mr. Pena says, because there are “too many Republicans who support US military intervention as a projection of US power, and too many Democrats who may oppose the Libya action but don’t want to vote against a president who’s a Democrat.”

At the end of the day, he adds, “There just aren’t enough Dennis Kuciniches and Ron Pauls,” the libertarian anti-intervention Republican congressman, “to make this stand.”

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