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'War Powers' Plan Faces Steep Odds

Former secretaries of state James Baker and Warren Christopher held a press conference on Capitol Hill this morning to unveil the fruit of their most recent bipartisan commission labors, a proposal to repeal the dysfunctional 1973 War Powers Act and replace it with a new framework to govern how and whether the president consults with Congress before sending American troops into battle.

Though opinions on the proper war-making balance between the executive and legislative branches vary widely, most experts tend to agree that the existing War Powers Act simply isn't working. In a New York Times op-ed published today, Baker and Christopher write that the law "is ineffective at best and unconstitutional at worst." Under their proposal, the president would have to consult with Congress before engaging in "significant armed conflict." Specifically, the White House would have to consult with a new, joint House-Senate committee comprised of top leaders and senior members of the relevant existing panels such as Armed Services and Foreign Relations.

What are the odds that a proposal such as Baker and Christopher's would become law? The prospects are unclear, though it's worth noting that another war powers overhaul is already in the legislative hopper awaiting action.

Last fall, Rep. Walter Jones Jr. (R-N.C.) introduced the Constitutional War Powers Resolution of 2007. His measure would require the president to consult with Congress anytime he or she wants to send troops abroad for military action, unless such action is expressly designed to repel an attack on the United States or U.S. troops.

"Too many times this Congress has not met its constitutional duty of oversight and has abdicated its constitutional authorities to the executive branch," Jones, a staunch opponent of the Iraq war, said upon introducing the bill.

Jones's measure has picked up 11 cosponsors -- eight Democrats and three Republicans, including Rep. Ron Paul (Texas) -- but has otherwise not seen any legislative action. It likely won't this year, especially since President Bush would be highly unlikely to sign such a measure.

But fending off calls for greater consultation with Congress has been a bipartisan White House practice. In 1999, then-Rep. Tom Campbell (R-Calif.) led a group of lawmakers who unsuccessfully filed suit against President Clinton, arguing that he should have consulted with Congress before bombing Kosovo. The Bush administration has been generally dismissive of any action that might limit the president's authority as commander in chief on a broad range of issues.

Baker and Christopher say their proposal would be good for both Congress and the White House. Perhaps the Obama or McCain administration might be willing to tackle the subject anew in 2009, or at least before the next war.

By Ben Pershing  |  July 8, 2008; 4:44 PM ET
Categories:  Branch vs. Branch  
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Comments

What good is a new law, when every president has just ignored the old one?

Posted by: Thomas | July 8, 2008 5:58 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps setting a precident would encourage future presidents to obey the law. i.e. find some way to punish both Clinton and Bush Jr... This would set the precident and then the new law would be based on the threat of what happened to Clinton and Bush Jr. would also happen to future presidents if they disobey the law.

Posted by: Gerald Gibson | July 8, 2008 6:05 PM | Report abuse

All Hail. His Imperial Royal Majesty George W. Bush.

Posted by: Shawn | July 8, 2008 6:06 PM | Report abuse

No President in their right mind would sign such a bill into law. It lessens their own power.

Posted by: anom | July 8, 2008 6:10 PM | Report abuse

Congress enabled, funded and allowed Bush to happen.

Posted by: x32792 | July 8, 2008 6:12 PM | Report abuse

Not holding members of congress or bush responsible only emboldens the next president. We are betrayed from within by the best government money can buy. There are no patriots in Washington, just self serving, greedy, shameless, life long office holding incumbents in both parties.

Posted by: x32792 | July 8, 2008 6:16 PM | Report abuse

Something needs to be done to prevent another Iraq war from occurring, a war that was initiated to get at Iraq oil and to feed Bush's ego (that he did "better" than his daddy).
Have you ever noticed that the ones who are usually the quickest to start a war are the ones who have never, ever served in war (Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld)?
Bill Mauldin (who drew the cartoons of "Willie & Joe" in "Stars and Stripes") once wrote in his book "Up Front" which was about his war time experience (if I quote correctly) "the quickest way to become a pacifist is to join the infantry."
Maybe there should be a law that says before you start a war you need to have been in one or have to send your son and/or daughter to the front. Maybe that would give pause for thought.

Posted by: abby0802 | July 8, 2008 6:20 PM | Report abuse

This administration is using the military to conduct activities abroad without the approval or knowledge of congress. King George does not believe in being told he cannot do what he wants where he wants to.

Posted by: JJonson | July 8, 2008 6:27 PM | Report abuse

We have "rule of interpretation", not "rule of law". Whatever you legislate it will be interpreted conveniently by the supreme court judges depending on their party affiliation. So, how does it matter.

Posted by: rosetee | July 8, 2008 6:27 PM | Report abuse

The real problem is that Congress is feckless and ineffectual. Had they done their constitutional duty originally we would not be in Iraq. Given Bush and Cheney's penchant for abusing power it is not likely that any statute or constitutional language would deter them from their goal of liberating Iraq for oil. So long as the American People are more concerned about their stock portfolios, Dancing With The Stars and American Idol than their rights of citizenship in a free country, it really doesn't matter.

Posted by: ALAN ROBINSON | July 8, 2008 6:30 PM | Report abuse

The Constitution spells out Congress' responsibilities with respect to sanctioning misconduct by the President. Impeachment hearings in the House Judiciary Committee are the equivalent of a Grand Jury hearing in matters of law, and articles of impeachment require only a simple majority of the House to be passed to the Senate, where allegations of 'treason, bribery or high-crimes and misdemeanors' are tried.

Part of the problem is the popular perception that the President must be shown to be guilty of violating some law in order to be impeached. This is simply not true. In fact, the House may impeach for any reason it wants, as long as a majority agree. Likewise, the Senate may find the President guilty if 2/3 of the Senators agree, regardless of the quality of the evidence, or the substance of the charges.

The point is, the framers of the Constitution defined due-process for the President in terms of the House as prosecutor, and the Senate as jury. Since that is the sole mechanism provided for restraining the chief executive, and protecting the citizens from an imperial presidency, it is absolutely crucial to the preserving the checks and balances on which our government is based, that Congress hold impeachment hearings and vote articles of impeachment whenever there are circumstances which resemble abuse of authority by the President.

Put another way, impeachment is the counter-weight (explicitly prescribed in the Constitution), to claims of 'executive privilege' by the President, an authority which is nowhere mentioned or even suggested in that same Constitution. By failing to act against the Bush administration, with numerous questionable acts, some of them specific violations of law, and others violations of Constitutional principles, the Congress bears a great deal of responsibility for undermining it's own authority, and with it the quality of our democracy.

How can a Congress, and in particular a party (the Republicans) insist upon impeachment for lying to a grand jury about sexual misconduct (as it did with President Clinton), and then fail to act when a President lies to Congress in order to obtain war powers, or blatantly violates national security statutes by divulging the identity an officer of the CIA? The answer, I suspect, has to do with the pervasive levels of corruption which exist in our federal government, and which therefore make it impossible to find a quorum of honorable men able to stand the scrutiny of a Just proceeding.

Posted by: ted in pdx | July 8, 2008 6:30 PM | Report abuse

anom, not every candidate running for the office of President is a power-hungry maniac. There exist reasonable candidates who value the balance of power, because they see their own terms as limited in duration.

I expect we will see such a bill signed in the future, particularly under an Obama administration.

Posted by: Franklin | July 8, 2008 6:31 PM | Report abuse

I agree completely. Even if Obama, who we all know will be a puppet to the intelligentsia at Columbia, Harvard, Berkeley and will be instituting socialism as fast as possible, gets elected- it is especially important that we make sure that he cant overreach in regards to the military. By the same token, I wouldnt let him take control of the Nationa Guard either! If Russia had a "do-over" would they have elected Vladimir Lenin, much less let him topple the existing regime?

Posted by: Tom | July 8, 2008 6:45 PM | Report abuse

Only Congress can declare war . . . so they give the President "War Powers". That way they let themselves off the hook and they can then sit back and criticize anything the President does. Wimps? Gutless? Yep, sometimes they forget that they are supposed to be our employees. And many citizens forget it too.

Posted by: Ron | July 8, 2008 6:49 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps we just need to enact a provision that requires a universal draft whenever a war or military action is initiated. The draft would include all males and females ages 18-25, no exemptions and no deferrals.
When everyone's sons and daughters will be subject to death and dismembering, people will be more circumspect before going to war. It would make us a true democracy, no longer would the poor, the desperate and the under privileged fight for a president's ill-conceived idiologies.

Posted by: Richard | July 8, 2008 6:55 PM | Report abuse

@ ted in pdx
insightful and intelligent post.
Is anyone else over 13 here?

Posted by: Messagero | July 8, 2008 7:03 PM | Report abuse

Ted in pdx, I'd be interested to see what the Framers had in mind when they drafted the impeachment procedures. Did they want a safeguard against a criminal President, or did they want a "vote of no confidence" like many parliamentary systems use?

Either would apply in our current situation, but one would drastically alter the way we think of the Presidency.

Posted by: J-Red | July 8, 2008 7:32 PM | Report abuse

Bush has made it clear that the President should be stripped of most powers. The office should be made a figurehead, like the Queen of England, with no real say in the operation of the nation.
This is suppose to be a democracy. Not a dictatorship.

Posted by: DWayne | July 8, 2008 7:33 PM | Report abuse

The country does NOT need a new War Powers law.

Our gutless and spineless national legislators need to follow the Constitution that they all swear to uphold and defend. If our legislators actually read and followed the Constitution they would find that it is Congress that has the power to declare war and to raise the funds for war. It is Congress that has the power to stand up to the imperial executive branch.

But the partisan, insipid, hand-wringing children elected to Congress have abdicated their responsibilities and forsaken their oaths of office. Congress could have stopped the executive branch a long time ago. But members of Congress long ago sold their honor for fleeting baubles of power and self-importance.

Posted by: David | July 8, 2008 7:36 PM | Report abuse

Since the routine justification for American warring overseas is, "to defend American interests," i.e. to protect the interest of American corporations doing business overseas, how about also passing a law that requires that all military expenditures beyond the borders of the United States for purposes other than the direct physical defense of the United States to be funded exclusively by an import tax on the goods and repatriated revenues of American corporations doing business beyond the borders of the United States? Why should the U.S. taxpayers have to pay to protect the foreign adventures of American corporations? Let them either pay for their own international militias or pay for the full cost of providing the same.

Posted by: Tharms | July 8, 2008 8:14 PM | Report abuse

Guess abby0802 forgot about FDR(WWII, 800k killed, 3 million wounded), Truman (Korean War, 52k killed and 105k wounded) and let's not forget the Prince of Camelot, JFK ( Vietnam, 58k killed and 150k wounded)and then we have Bush's war, (Iraq / Afghanistan, 4k killed and 18k wounded. Must be easy to dismiss all before Bush and his blunder. Soon we'll have Obama and his casualty count.

Posted by: starryperdun | July 8, 2008 8:41 PM | Report abuse

As David accurately pointed out above, the Constitution gives the Congress the responsibility for declaring war on another nation. Our Founding Fathers realized this was an extremely serious step, the ramifications of which had the possibility to rock our Nation to the core. It is so serious, that each member of Congress must vote up or down on the resolution. Like David said, each elected official must take personal responsibility for their action. We saw the train wreck that was the Vietnam war based on a false "Gulf of Tonkin" incident. We have seen the ongoing Iraq war based on well mined "intelligence." Perhaps, if in each instance, a case would have been presented to a thoughtful and responsible Congress, we would have saved over sixty thousand American lives, the economic woes we are now experiencing, and the reputation of our country around the world. I wish members of our Congress would have shown the courage and bravery of many of my fellow soldiers.

Posted by: Saxxon Domela | July 8, 2008 9:59 PM | Report abuse

This is what happens when we allow our representatives to change the meaning of the Constitution, without amending it.

The Constitution explicitly states that the President is the Commander and Chief of the Armed Forces, but only the Legislative Branch has the power to declare war. That meant the President could not engage the U.S. military overseas without first receiving a declaration (and thus authorization) from Congress.

Per the Constitution, the President already has to consult with Congress. If he/she desires to engage U.S. Troops overseas, then he must first get Congress to issue a declaration of war. That would probably result in some consultation happening.

That idea was thought to be too archaic 35 years ago. But rather than amend the Constitution, and explicitly outline where the powers were, and what the procedures were, our representatives took the easy route. They ignored the Constitution and pass a law instead.

Now we're upset when the President ignores a law, which itself ignores the Constitution.

We The People are ultimately represented by the Constitution, which created the three branches of the Federal Government and provided their powers and responsibilities. Most of our problems stem from We The People allowing them (our representatives) to ignore us (The Constitution) and make up their own rules.

Posted by: MDLaxer | July 9, 2008 8:35 AM | Report abuse

This piece rightfully concludes that the Act would face huge opposition if introduced to Congress. While I applaud any effort to remind presidents that the power to declare and carry out wars is a shared one, as evident by Articles 1 and 2 of the US Constitution, I also think we have a much greater deterrent: holding the president and his closest advisors and cabinet leaders responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity. I applaud groups like Human Rights Watch, who want to hold Rumsfeld accountable for his actions. When GWB steps aside, he needs to be the next person we draft pleadings against. Perhaps international accountability will demonstrate to our presidents that they are not endowed with broad powers by either the Constitution or international norms, despite what the Office of Legal Counsel and others like John Yoo would have us believe.

Posted by: TNL | July 9, 2008 8:54 AM | Report abuse

For crying out loud!!! Get your history right. It is the War Powers Resolution or the War Powers Resolution of 1973. The War Powers Act(s) was passed in the early '40's, while FDR (Frank Delano Roosevelt) was POTUS. After giving the NY Times grief, even they finally relented.

Congress has always had the power of the purse-strings, thus making the War Powers Resolution, moot. It was passed as a knee-jerk, feel-good measure because of the mood of Congress and the Viet Nam Conflict, not to mention leverage for impeachment, in the event Congress had a problem with the Executive Branch of government.

Your education is now complete for the day!!! Exams are on for tomorrow, so study hard (or hardly study)!!!!

Posted by: Steve M. | July 9, 2008 4:38 PM | Report abuse

Wow some really good comments...

1).
This is what happens when we allow our representatives to change the meaning of the Constitution, without amending it.

The Constitution explicitly states that the President is the Commander and Chief of the Armed Forces, but only the Legislative Branch has the power to declare war. That meant the President could not engage the U.S. military overseas without first receiving a declaration (and thus authorization) from Congress.

Per the Constitution, the President already has to consult with Congress. If he/she desires to engage U.S. Troops overseas, then he must first get Congress to issue a declaration of war. That would probably result in some consultation happening.

That idea was thought to be too archaic 35 years ago. But rather than amend the Constitution, and explicitly outline where the powers were, and what the procedures were, our representatives took the easy route. They ignored the Constitution and pass a law instead.

Now we're upset when the President ignores a law, which itself ignores the Constitution.

We The People are ultimately represented by the Constitution, which created the three branches of the Federal Government and provided their powers and responsibilities. Most of our problems stem from We The People allowing them (our representatives) to ignore us (The Constitution) and make up their own rules own.

2).
Not holding members of congress or bush responsible only emboldens the next president. We are betrayed from within by the best government money can buy. There are no patriots in Washington, just self serving, greedy, shameless, life long office holding incumbents in both parties.

There were some other good ones too!!!
So what are we going to do? Ain't there something in there about that! ???

I KNOW THERE IS!!!

Posted by: Victoria | July 9, 2008 9:34 PM | Report abuse

Article I, Section 8 of The US Constitution states in part, "Congress shall have The Power to...To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water."

These delegated and enumerated powers are pretty conclusive on which body has the power to declare war. It is not the President. In addition The POTUS does not become Commander in Chief until such time as there has been a formal declaration of War rendered by the Congress.
War powers was a gift from Congress to give cover to a president in order that he may continue unlawful wars like the one we are being consumed by presently.

It should be obvious that this inbred major party system (Repub/Dem) is the root of the problem that plagues our country.
It is time to clean these guys out en mass.
We need at least one third of of both Houses of Congress to consist of Independents. Vote for anybody that is not a member of the two greates organized crime syndicates in the World, a Congress controlled by either Democrats or Republicans. Getting rid of these bought and paid for life long members of Congress is the only thing that will save the US.

Posted by: jsbar | July 10, 2008 8:51 AM | Report abuse

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