House Republicans plan to vote this week on restricting spending for U.S. military involvement in Libya to activities not directly involved in hostilities, lawmakers said.
House Republicans who attended a closed caucus said a resolution presented by House Speaker John Boehner to limit U.S. forces to non-combat activities didn’t go far enough because it wouldn’t impose any spending restrictions.
“We have the ability to restrict funding,” Representative Tom Rooney, a Florida Republican, told reporters after the caucus. Members are anxious to find “what limitations we could put on the administration with regard to funding,” he said.
Boehner, an Ohio Republican, earlier in the day voiced doubt that an alternative resolution to authorize U.S. military support for the allied bombardment of forces loyal to Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi would pass the House.
“I don’t think that’s where the House is,” Boehner told reporters after an earlier caucus of House Republicans.
At the second caucus, Boehner presented House members two alternatives on Libya: a bipartisan resolution introduced in the Senate that supports U.S. involvement in a mission commanded by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and one that would bar “hostilities” by U.S. ships and planes.
During the closed session, members sought stronger language because “a lot of people want to just cut off the funding,” said Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon, a California Republican. “That’s what our power is.”
No Bombing Drones
The option under discussion would limit spending for U.S. military-support activities, such as aerial refueling, reconnaissance and search and rescue, McKeon said.
“It would not have funding for hostilities,” so “the drones couldn’t be used for bombing,” he said of U.S.-operated drones that have been used for reconnaissance and to fire missiles at ground targets.
Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said in an e-mail that the House will consider the Senate resolution and “a stand-alone funding limitation” for the 2012 fiscal year, “which will cut off funding for hostilities, but not leave our NATO allies in the lurch.”
Both resolutions will be debated this week as Boehner gives lawmakers a chance to protest President Barack Obama’s failure to seek congressional authorization for the military mission.
Giving Qaddafi ‘Hope’
In the Senate, Democratic Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois said a House vote to bar U.S. funds for combat operations would “give hope” to Qaddafi that he can survive and “undermine the effort of innocent people in Libya risking their lives” to topple his dictatorship.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said the resolution by Democratic Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts and Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona authorizing the mission for up to a year would win passage in the chamber.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, predicted the Senate would give “approval of some sort” for the Libya mission.
McConnell, who spoke to reporters at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor, said he tends to “defer” to McCain on defense matters. Still, there are differences of opinion among Senate Republicans about Libya, he said.
The Senate resolution would authorize the Obama administration to continue providing air and naval support to the allied bombing campaign, though it would bar the deployment of U.S. ground troops.
No ‘Blank Check’
“This is not a blank check for the president,” said Kerry, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, in remarks prepared for delivery yesterday on the Senate floor. “This resolution authorizes the limited use of American forces in a supporting role” to the allied mission.
Boehner says Obama violated the 1973 War Powers Resolution by failing to get congressional authorization for the Libya mission. The law requires presidents to notify Congress within 48 hours of the start of hostilities and to get permission for a conflict that lasts longer than 60 to 90 days.
In response to a June 3 House-passed resolution’s demand for a justification of the mission, Obama said U.S. support for the NATO-led operation didn’t constitute hostilities under the War Powers Resolution.
“The Obama administration’s claim that targeted bombings, missile strikes and other military actions in Libya do not constitute ‘hostilities’ under the War Powers Resolution is not credible,” Boehner said in a statement.
McConnell said he is “not prepared to have an argument yet with the president on this subject,” as “these are always murky areas.”
The alternative resolution Boehner offered yesterday would have required a withdrawal of U.S. forces from “hostilities” and limit military involvement to search and rescue, aerial refueling and reconnaissance flights.
Besides providing such support, U.S. pilots have flown 735 missions to attack ground targets since March 31, the Defense Department said. U.S. aircraft are flying about a quarter of all aerial missions and 10 percent of those that involve bombing ground targets, according to Defense Department figures.
Representative Dennis Kucinich, an Ohio Democrat who attracted 87 Republican votes for his failed June 3 resolution to end U.S. support for the mission, said last week he would try again to cut off all funds for it.
Kucinich said yesterday the resolutions coming before the House means “members are going to be able to choose to prosecute the war or not,” and “that is an important moment.”
The NATO bombardment of Libya began in March as an effort to protect civilians in rebel-controlled areas from being attacked by forces loyal to Qaddafi. It has evolved into an effort to depose Qaddafi through military pressure that complements the rebel campaign. After initially leading the campaign, U.S. air forces turned command over to NATO.
“There were legitimate reasons for establishing a no-fly zone over Libya and forcing Qaddafi to keep his most potent weapons out of the fight,” Kerry said in his prepared floor remarks. “The justification is clear and compelling.”
Besides McCain, the resolution is co-sponsored by four other Republicans: Jon Kyl of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Roy Blunt of Missouri and Mark Kirk of Illinois.
Four other Democrats, including Durbin and Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin of Michigan, co-sponsored the resolution.