House Libya Resolution: Pretty Tame Stuff
Here’s the text of the resolution passed in the House this afternoon on Libya, as introduced by Speaker Boehner. It’s not insignificant, as an institutional pronouncement, even though it’s non-binding. It amounts to a kind of soft law. The resolution provides that “the President shall not deploy, establish, or maintain the presence of units and members of the United States Armed Forces on the ground in Libya unless the purpose of the presence is to rescue a member of the Armed Forces in imminent danger.” Congress is clearly unhappy with the continuing operation, and it’s going to be tougher for the White House to give it the brush-off with this marker on the books. It may be non-binding, but I wouldn’t be putting troops on the ground without a congressional okay, in advance.
But the resolution doesn’t assert that Obama has acted unlawfully in a general way or even that he’s violated the War Powers Resolution in particular (by continuing the action without specific congressional authorization beyond the 60-day clock). From the Boehner resolution’s findings, in section 4:
The President has not sought, and Congress has not provided, authorization for the introduction or continued involvement of the United States Armed Forces in Libya. Congress has the constitutional prerogative to withhold funding for any unauthorized use of the United States Armed Forces, including for unauthorized activities regarding Libya.
That’s a pretty limited assertion of congressional power. Just about everybody agrees that Congress can use the purse strings to curb the use of force by the executive branch. This action evidences an equilibrium, not instability, in war powers practice.