In just over a week, 60 days will have passed since the war in Libya began. But Congress has no plans to exercise its rights under the War Powers Act to either approve or stop the administration's use of U.S. military forces to fight the army of Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi.
The War Powers Resolution of 1973 allows the president to commit U.S. forces for 60 days without the explicit authorization of Congress, with another 30 days allowed for the withdrawal of those forces.
"The constitutional powers of the President as Commander-in-Chief to introduce United States Armed Forces into hostilities, or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances, are exercised only pursuant to a declaration of war, a specific statutory authorization, or a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces," the law states.
But the administration won't be immediately pressed to follow the law if nobody in Congress intends to enforce it. Both leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee told The Cable on Tuesday that there are no plans for Senate action on the war in Libya -- before or after the deadline.
"I'm not hearing from my colleagues that they feel the War Powers situation is currently in play because we're deferring to NATO," committee chairman Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) told The Cable. Kerry had been working on a resolution with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) but the text was never finalized.
Kerry said there's nothing on the schedule either in his committee, where a resolution based on the War Powers Act would have to originate, or on the Senate floor. "I'm certainly prepared to listen and be responsive," if senators want to debate the war, he said.
Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), the committee's ranking Republican, told The Cable he also doesn't see any action on the horizon, but he called on the Senate to start conducting oversight of the war and demanding more details from the Obama administration.
"I'm one who believes that there does need to accountability, if not a declaration of war under the War Powers Act, at least some specific resolution that would give authority," Lugar said. "But even absent that, some definition from the president of what our plan is, what our metrics would be, and by this time what the costs have been, quite apart from the estimate of what they will be."
Asked if the president is legally required to begin ending U.S. military involvement when the 60-day window closes, Lugar said it's a possibility.
"That is certainly one strong interpretation of this. I'll examine that when we come to it," he said. "The War Powers Act has been argued through several administrations as to whether the president feels bound by it or not."
Overall, he and many others in the Senate lament that the budget debate and other issues have pushed the Libya discussion to the back burner.
"There has never has been the correct focus on Libya with regard to congressional hearings or congressional debate," Lugar said.
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