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Congress Needs to Do Its Job on War Powers

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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Kudos for Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, who is trying to revive congressional action on passing something to finally authorize the U.S. action against Islamic State. 

And most of the other 534 members of the House and Senate? They should be ashamed of themselves. Kaine, a Democrat, gets it exactly right about Congress: “Our actions so far have demonstrated that we're indifferent or lack a backbone.”

As Jennifer Bendery of the Huffington Post reminds us, Congress has been particularly craven on the question of taking action on renewed military involvement in Iraq. 

For months members of Congress begged the Obama administration to send them an Authorization for the Use of Military Force, even though they could have -- should have -- just written one themselves. Then when the president sent something, members of both parties preferred reciting talking points to getting the work done.

The result, as Kaine points out, is that nothing is happening. Once again, the problem isn’t presidential usurpation of Congress’s responsibilities over war and peace; it’s congressional abdication.

While neither party seems interested in asserting congressional authority, Republicans deserve the bulk of the blame. Not just because they are in the majority (and, remember, this stretches back to last fall when Harry Reid was still Senate majority leader), but because their position appears to be that Congress shouldn't place any limits on any military action the executive branch chooses. Senate Republicans have not hesitated to insert themselves into negotiations with Iran. Their position (as Democratic Senator Chris Murphy pointed out a while ago) seems to be that when it comes to war the president should be able to do whatever he wants, but when it comes to peace (such as a potential agreement with Iran) he should be severely constrained. 

Still, even a broad authorization for the war on Islamic State would be better for congressional influence than no authorization at all. Republicans and Democrats should find a way to bridge their differences on this.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net