Bloomberg News

Boehner Says Lawmakers May Seek to Deny Libya Mission Funds

June 16, 2011

(Updates with Carney’s reaction in sixth, seventh paragraphs.)

June 16 (Bloomberg) -- House Speaker John Boehner said President Barack Obama’s explanation of why he can continue the U.S. mission in Libya without lawmakers’ approval “doesn’t pass a straight-face test” and that lawmakers will consider options to constrain the president, including withholding funds.

Boehner, an Ohio Republican, told reporters at his weekly press conference today that lawmakers may use the “power of the purse” in confronting the administration. White House officials said yesterday the Libya mission is being funded from the Pentagon budget and that they didn’t expect to ask Congress for supplemental money.

“The House has options” on Libya, Boehner said. “Next week we may be prepared to move with those options.”

Boehner’s remarks come a day after the Obama administration submitted a 32-page unclassified report to Congress arguing that U.S. military involvement in the Libya campaign led by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization doesn’t need congressional authorization because U.S. forces are mainly providing a support role and aren’t engaged in combat with hostile forces.

“It doesn’t pass a straight-face test in my view that we are not in the midst of hostilities,” Boehner said.

Sound Analysis

White House press secretary Jay Carney said the administration has no plans to further explain its legal rationale.

“We believe that it is accurate and sound legal analysis,” Carney said. He also said that Boehner himself in the past has cautioned against Congress tying the president’s hands with the War Powers Resolution.

Obama also is coming under fire from some members of his own party. Representative Lynn Woolsey, a California Democrat and antiwar activist, said the Libya report showed “contempt” for the U.S. Constitution and Congress.

“To say that our aggressive bombing of Libya does not rise to the level of ‘hostilities’ flies in the face of common sense and is an insult to the intelligence of the American people,” Woolsey said in a release.

Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, said she’s “satisfied the president has the authority he needs to go ahead” with the mission because the U.S. role is limited.

“When we have boots on the ground, mano a mano, that’s a different story,” Pelosi, of California, said at her weekly news conference. She urged the administration to increase its consultation with lawmakers.

Administration Argument

The administration released its report after Boehner wrote to Obama on June 14, saying that without congressional backing, the mission would violate the War Powers Resolution of 1973 as of June 19.

Congressional authorization isn’t required, the administration said, because U.S. military operations in Libya are distinct from the kind of “hostilities” the resolution is meant to address. For example, it says, the U.S. role doesn’t involve sustained fighting, active exchange of fire with hostile forces or ground troops.

“U.S. forces are playing a constrained and supporting role in a multinational coalition,” the report said. The “operations are both legitimated by and limited to the terms of a United Nations Security Council Resolution that authorizes the use of force solely to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under attack or threat of attack and to enforce a no-fly zone and an arms embargo,” it said.

‘Highly Contentious’

Robert F. Turner, a law professor and associate director of the Center for National Security Law at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, said there is “absolutely no question in my mind” that Obama’s position is justified and that there was a long history of U.S. involvement in military actions without congressional approval.

“If U.S. combat forces are not engaged in combat operations, then the War Powers Resolution doesn’t apply,” he said.

Turner also said he believes that the War Powers Resolution is unconstitutional -- although Obama’s lawyers aren’t making that argument.

Matthew C. Waxman, an associate professor at Columbia Law School in New York and a former official in President George W. Bush’s administration, agreed that the resolution’s constitutionality is open to debate. Even so, he said Obama’s position “is likely to be highly contentious,” given how essential the U.S. role is in the NATO campaign.

War Fatigue

“One might point out that the United States is contributing the vast bulk of support operations, without which NATO’s Libya operations would almost certainly cease,” he said. “And the objectives of this campaign are now quite broad, seeming to include knocking out the Libyan leadership, so one could also quite plausibly characterize these operations as major ones.”

The report comes as Republicans and some Democrats are challenging the continuation of the mission, spurred by what lawmakers have described as a combination of war fatigue, perplexity over the strategic purpose of the U.S. mission in Libya and Obama’s failure to consult Congress on it.

The Pentagon has spent $715.9 million on military and humanitarian operations in Libya through June 3, the report said. The total projected cost to the Pentagon is projected to be about $1.1 billion through Sept. 30, the end of the second 90-day NATO authorization, it said. All the money will come out of the regular defense budget, according to the report.

Humanitarian Work

In addition, the U.S. has spent $81 million on separate humanitarian work, including supplies and logistics. The State Department through June 3 has spent $3.7 million.

Boehner’s demand for more information about the operation follows a 268-145 vote by the House of Representatives on June 3 approving a resolution sponsored by Boehner rebuking Obama for failing to state a “compelling” national security “rationale” for supporting the bombing campaign.

Obama also sent a consolidated report on U.S. involvement elsewhere in the world -- including the war against terrorism, the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and a small U.S. role in Egypt, where a 40-member security force was sent to protect U.S. citizens and property.

--With assistance from Roger Runningen and Nicholas Johnston in Washington. Editors: Joe Sobczyk, Mark McQuillan.

To contact the reporters on this story: Margaret Talev in Washington at mtalev@bloomberg.net; James Rowley in Washington at jarowley@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net.


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