For critics of the Obama administration's decision to bypass Congress before taking military action in Libya, Friday is judgment day.
May 20 is the 60-day deadline for President Barack Obama to get congressional authorization under the War Powers Act, prompting outrage among a bipartisan group of lawmakers who believe that the president is breaking the law. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and five of his GOP colleagues sent a letter to Obama, demanding an answer.
"There is a law. It's on the books, and in plain reading of the War Powers Act, he appears to be in violation of the War Powers Act," Paul told CNN.
"To me it's the most important debate we'll ever have up here," Paul added. "If we're going to send someone, your son or my son to war, its important that it be done properly. And it's important that, if there are constitutional restraints, we obey them."
Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) was just as emphatic, telling The Huffington Post, "[t]he War Powers Act is the law of the land, and it is clear. You must withdraw forces from hostilities after 60 days absent authorization from Congress. President Obama should seek authorization for the Libya operations and Congress should debate and vote. Our efforts to bring democracy to Libya should not undermine democracy and the rule of law in the United States."
And Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) says he plans to introduce legislation next week to halt the mission. In a statement, Kucinich decried that the administration is "setting the stage for endless war which will bring ruin and poverty."
Though previous presidents have ignored provisions of the act requiring congressional approval before military action, it is unprecedented for the commander-in-chief to blow the 60-day deadline, say presidential scholars.
"Make no mistake: Obama is breaking new ground, moving decisively beyond his predecessors," Yale law professors Bruce Ackerman and Oona Hathaway wrote in the Washington Post on Tuesday. "If nothing happens, history will say that the War Powers Act was condemned to a quiet death by a president who had solemnly pledged, on the campaign trail, to put an end to indiscriminate warmaking."
Other members of Congress don't seem as concerned.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has strongly backed military support for Libyan rebels, says he doesn't think the president needs to get a resolution. "I've never recognized the constitutionality of the War Powers Act, nor has any president, either Republican or Democrat," he said.
The White House did not return calls for comment. But Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week that the administration intends to seek congressional authorization, describing it as a "narrow set of authorities."
The mission has already surpassed the $750 million projected cost at the outset of the NATO operation, with State Department officials estimating that enforcement of the no-fly zone will cost at least $40 million a month. And UN officials are seeking $233 million to handle a burgeoning humanitarian nightmare -- almost 800,000 refugees have fled Libya in recent months.