WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A move to stop funding for President Barack Obama’s military intervention in Libya was narrowly defeated in the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday, underscoring Congress’ unhappiness with the undeclared war.
Both political parties split on the measure, highlighting how tensions over U.S. involvement — in conjunction with NATO — in Libya’s civil war have crossed party lines and created unusual alliances.
Republicans and Democrats argued that President Obama violated the U.S. Constitution and the 1973 War Powers Resolution by failing to secure congressional authorization for U.S. military operations in the north African country.
The House did vote, 225-201, to bar any money in the defense spending bill from being spent on military equipment or training for Libyan rebels. The measure also would have to get Senate approval and be signed by Obama before becoming law.
Representative Tom Cole, who sponsored the measure, called it a “very important moment.”
“It’s extraordinarily important that we stop the erosion of the war-making authority of the Congress of the United States, that we end this ill-advised adventure in Libya and that we reassert the rightful place of this institution in conducting war, authorizing it and funding it,” he said.
Senator John McCain, a fellow Republican, acknowledged frustration over Obama’s lack of consultation with Congress over the conflict but said the vote to bar funding for “freedom fighters in Libya is deeply disturbing.”
“This action sends the wrong message to both (Libyan leader Muammar) Gaddafi and those fighting for freedom and democracy in Libya — especially with Gaddafi is clearly crumbling,” McCain said.
The House, in a 316-111 vote, also approved a measure barring the Pentagon from using funds from the 2012 defense spending bill on anything that violates the War Powers Resolution, which requires the president to seek congressional approval within 60 days of committing U.S. forces to a conflict.
On a vote of 199-229, the House rejected the proposal to block defense funds in fiscal year 2012, which begins October 1, for U.S. military participation in the NATO-led mission against Gaddafi’s forces.
The failed measure’s sponsors were Democratic Representative Dennis Kucinich and Republican Representative Justin Amash.
“We are at war,” Amash argued before the vote. “The Constitution vests Congress with the exclusive power to declare war.”
He said it was embarrassing to hear the Obama administration’s “flimsy” arguments for being involved in Libya but it would be even more embarrassing if Congress did nothing about its constitutional role being ignored. “We must stand up and say stop.”
But Representative Norm Dicks, a Democrat, said it would be wrong to undermine the president, as well as NATO allies involved in the war, by cutting off funds for it. He said the administration estimated the conflict would cost the United States a little more than $1 billion by September 30.
Representative Bill Young, a Republican, said there were no funds in the fiscal 2012 defense spending bill for Libya anyway, because the administration had said that it was taking the money from the “base budget” that had already been appropriated in the current fiscal year.
The House has held several votes on the Libyan operation. Last month it defeated another move to curb the intervention, while also refusing to formally authorize the U.S. participation. The Senate has yet to take any votes on the war, although a resolution to authorize the U.S. role has passed a committee.
The House actions reflect growing war fatigue among lawmakers after almost a decade of fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq that have cost more than $1 trillion and have helped fuel a $1.4 trillion budget deficit.
The United States and its NATO allies launched the U.N.-backed mission against Libya more than three months ago, aiming to prevent Gaddafi’s forces from attacking civilians in regions opposed to his rule. The mission now appears to have the unstated goal of driving Gaddafi from power.
Additional reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Bill Trott