Sunday, July 13, 2008

Commission Proposes Formal Role for Congress in War Decisions

July 8, 2008 – 1:51 p.m.

Two former secretaries of State unveiled a plan Tuesday to require better consultation between Congress and the president over sending U.S. troops into war.

The legislation, the product of a blue-ribbon commission headed by James A. Baker III, secretary of State under President George Bush, and Warren Christopher, who held the same office under President Bill Clinton, would establish a joint congressional committee and require that the president consult with its members before sending the military into battle.

“This statute gives Congress a seat at the table in deciding whether or not to go to war — not just a seat at the table, but one with a permanent staff, a permanent professional staff, and access to all the available intelligence information,” Christopher said.

Christopher and Baker urged Congress and a new administration to quickly take up their proposal, and said they had reached out to the campaigns of Sens. Barack Obama , D-Ill., and John McCain , R-Ariz.

The plan also would require Congress to vote on a concurrent resolution to authorize the conflict within 30 days after military action begins. If that resolution fails, it would allow an expedited vote on a joint resolution of disapproval, which would become law only with the president’s signature or over his or her veto.

Any military action expected to last more than a week would require consultation, and formal consultation would continue every two months. If action requires secrecy, the president would have to consult within three days after the action began. Covert operations, humanitarian missions, limited reprisal against terrorists and repelling attacks on the United States would be exempt.

Under the Constitution, only Congress can declare war. However, since the end of World War II, presidents have committed the U.S. military to several conflicts without asking for declarations of war, though in some cases Congress has enacted authorizing resolutions, as it did in the run-up to the war in Iraq. Congress also has the power to limit spending for military operations, though it could be politically difficult to do so once U.S. troops have been committed to a conflict.

The proposal would replace the 1973 War Powers Resolution, which the commission concluded was ineffective at best and unconstitutional at worst.

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