WASHINGTON -- Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) announced Friday that he plans to offer an amendment to the upcoming Defense spending bill to cut off funding for military operations in Libya—a move that could create political headaches for the White House as well as Republicans.
Kucinich, who earlier this week filed a lawsuit that charges President Barack Obama with illegally initiating military action in Libya without congressional consent, said his amendment will challenge the White House’s argument that bombing operations and support of other countries’ military operations do not constitute war.
“My amendment will provide the first test whether this Congress will defend its own authority under Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution,” Kucinich said in a statement. “Congress must use its constitutional authority of the power of the purse to end this war.”
The defense spending bill is expected to hit the House floor in the next few weeks. Current protocol allows lawmakers to offer any amendments to an appropriations bill, so Kucinich's amendment appears poised to sail through to the floor.
"Members can introduce and ask for votes on whatever they want,” said a GOP leadership aide.
Many liberals would have no problem voting for Kucinich's amendment, but it could create a dilemma for Republicans: vote for it and be criticized for bucking the president on a tedious foreign policy matter, or vote against it and be seen as hypocritical for slamming the president but not being willing to change course.
Of course, GOP leaders could try to counter Kucinich's amendment with a watered-down amendment of their own--which is exactly what happened two weeks ago when Kucinich introduced a resolution to force withdrawal from Libya. In that case, when it appeared Kucinich's proposal might actually pass, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) scrambled to put forward a less-extreme alternative that called on Obama to send Congress a report answering questions about the Libya mission. The move succeeded in siphoning enough disgruntled Republicans away from Kucinch's proposal and bringing it down, while Boehner's measure passed.
Lawmakers may not be so inclined to go easy on Obama this time around, however. The White House fueled bipartisan anger this week by submitting its report to Congress, per Boehner's resolution, and then promptly shutting down further questions on the matter. Many on Capitol Hill still take issue with the White House's reasoning that, because U.S. forces are not engaged in the kind of "hostilities" described in the War Powers resolution, Obama doesn't need congressional authorization.
"We’ve made our legal reasoning clear," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said during a Thursday briefing. "We can restate it, but I don’t anticipate further legal analysis on this issue from us."
And Carney repeatedly warned Congress against sending conflicting messages to the international community by holding votes to cut off Libya funding.
“We don’t think it’s helpful for Congress to send mixed messages,” he said. “I think we all agree, the vast majority of the members of Congress, as well as this administration, this president, that the mission undertaken by this broad coalition by NATO and other allies … has protected Libyan civilians, it has saved thousands of lives, and it has helped create space for the Libyan opposition to organize itself.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) suggested Boehner's tough talk on potentially blocking funds for Libya is purely political.
"I don’t think John really believes that we should stop our actions in Libya," Reid said in a Friday interview on PBS Newshour with Jim Lehrer. "I don’t think people should play around with this. We do not want Gadhafi running Libya, and so I think the Speaker should be very careful about these threats."
But some Democrats maintain that the only real way to ensure the U.S. pulls out of the Libya conflict—and to reassert the power of the legislative branch of government—is to block funding.
It would take “an amendment that says … we cannot spend any of the money we already have,” said Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who said Obama “made a mistake” by not asking for congressional authority to use military force in Libya.
“I voted to withdraw from Libya,” Frank said, referring to Kucinich's failed resolution earlier this month. “I think this thug [Muammar Gaddafi] should be removed, but not by Americans. I think we should hold out for Europeans to do it.”
Frank also dismissed Kucinich's lawsuit as having no teeth and said it is up to the legislative branch to change course. “The courts have said they will not intervene," he said. "It has to be coming from Congress."