Debate Forum Topic, 6/21/11

Is President Obama Acting in Violation of the War Powers Act?

By Gary Varvel

The War Powers Act of 1973 is a federal law intended to check the power of the president in committing the U.S. to an armed conflict without the consent of Congress. The act came about in the aftermath of both the Korean War and especially the Vietnam War. In each of those military actions, the U.S. found itself involved for many years in armed conflict without a declaration of war. Congress became concerned with the erosion of congressional authority to decide when the U.S. should become involved in a war or with regard to the use of armed forces, which could lead to war. The War Powers Act was passed by both the House of Representatives and Senate but was vetoed by President Richard Nixon. By a two-thirds vote in each house, Congress overrode the veto and enacted the joint resolution into law on November 7, 1973.
The act provides that the president can send U.S. armed forces into action abroad only by authorization of Congress or in case of “a national emergency created by attack upon the U.S., its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.” The War Powers Act requires the president to notify Congress within 48 hours of committing armed forces to military action and forbids armed forces from remaining for more than 60 days, with a further 30-day withdrawal period, without an authorization of the use of military force or a declaration of war.
Despite the apparent non-ambiguity of its language, the War Powers Resolution has been regularly ignored by presidents of both parties, some even declaring their belief that the act is unconstitutional.
May 20 marked the 60th day of U.S. combat in Libya as part of the UN resolution.  The deadline arrived without President Obama seeking specific authorization from Congress regarding the use of the U.S.  military as a part of the UN coalition. The president has suggested that since the U.S. leadership was transferred to NATO and since U.S. involvement is somewhat limited, that no authorization was needed. On Friday, June 3, the House of Representatives voted to rebuke President Obama for maintaining an American presence in the NATO operations in Libya without an authorization from Congress. The resolution states that the president’s failure to seek authorization is a violation of the War Powers Act.
The White House pushed back against Congressional criticism over the deepening air war in Libya, asserting President Obama had the authority to continue the military campaign without Congressional approval because American involvement fell short of full-blown hostilities.
Last week a bi-partisan group of 10 lawmakers, including Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio) filed a lawsuit asking a judge to order President Obama to pull out of the Libya operation because Congress did not authorize it.

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