House tests support for Afghanistan

House lawmakers on Thursday will test support for continued military action in Afghanistan and Libya. 

The House will vote on amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would withdraw troops from Afghanistan and prevent funds from the new defense bill from being used in the Libyan campaign led by NATO. 

Polls show the Afghanistan war is unpopular, and members of both parties have expressed unease with the action in Libya. 

The amendment to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, sponsored by Reps. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.), was debated briefly Wednesday night. 

"It is long past time to bring the war in Afghanistan to an end," the members said in a joint statement. "After 10 costly years, it is crystal-clear that the U.S. strategy of nation-building in a corrupt country with a minimal al Qaeda presence is not working."

The Chaffetz-Welch measure is one of several amendments offered to the defense bill that are meant to pressure the Obama administration to remove troops. None of the amendments is expected to pass, but the debate will still send a signal of bipartisan impatience with the war to the White House.

Obama has come under criticism on the Libyan operation for not consulting with Congress on the action, and for essentially ignoring the War Powers Act, which requires armed forces to be withdrawn after 60 days in the absence of authorization or a declaration of war from Congress. The 60-day window on Libya closed last week. 

Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) is the chief sponsor of an amendment that would prevent NDAA funds from being used to provide for ground troops in Libya. By voice vote on Wednesday, the House accepted an amendment from Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.) that says the NDAA does not authorize further military action in Libya.

"My amendment is simple and straightforward," Garrett said. "It clarifies that the National Defense Authorization Act contains no language to provide for the authorization of combat in Libya and ensures that such an authorization must be considered as standalone legislation if we are to continue any military operations in Libya."

Members will also vote Thursday on two detainee amendments. One, from Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), would allow detainees to testify in federal court in the U.S., but Republicans seemed likely to reject this.

A second, from Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.), would require foreign terrorists to be tried only in military tribunals, without the option of civilian courts. 

"Terrorists with ties to known terror organizations such as al Qaeda should not be afforded the same constitutional protections as American citizens," Buchanan said. "Using military tribunals to interrogate, prosecute and sentence foreign terrorists who conspire or attack the United States is a far better way to handle these kinds of sensitive matters."

Another key vote will be held on a bipartisan amendment from Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) that would eliminate language in the NDAA that many see as authorizing open-ended military action against terrorist groups. Amash sent a letter to all House members on Wednesday urging support for his amendment.

"This monumental legislation will affirmatively and pre-emptively give the president unprecedented power to launch attacks anywhere in the world, even within the United States," he wrote. "Make no mistake: The power we are asked to give the president is beyond the power Congress gave the president in the wake of the largest terrorist attacks in our history."

On Wednesday night, the House approved an amendment from Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) that is a rebuke of Obama administration plans to require federal contractors to provide information about their political contributions. Cole's amendment was accepted on a 261-163 vote, and would prevent all agencies in the executive branch from requiring information on political contributions.

During the brief debate, Cole rejected Democratic arguments that the disclosure requirement is aimed at gathering useful information, and said such a requirement would raise fears of political retaliation.

"It's a political quest, not a quest for more information," Cole said. "It's not about trying to make decisions on contracts."