Webb, Lee look to curb presidential authority to commit troops

"The question is simple: When should the president have the unilateral authority to decide to use military force, and what is the place of the Congress in that process?" Webb asked Monday. "Year by year, skirmish by skirmish, the role of the Congress in determining where the U.S. military would operate, and when the awesome power of our weapon systems would be unleashed, has diminished."

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Webb's bill, S. 3176, seeks to strike a balance between congressional approval and the power of the executive branch to command U.S. forces abroad. Specifically, it would require the president to seek congressional approval to engage members of the U.S. Armed Forces in humanitarian operations, but would require Congress to consider these requests on an expedited basis.

Under the bill, both the House and Senate would have 48 hours to consider these requests. The president could also insist that Congress return to consider these requests if it is not in session.

Perhaps most importantly, the bill spells out when the president can act on his own. These times include responding to or repelling attacks, self-defending, undertaking missions to rescue U.S. citizens, carrying out treaty obligations to aid allies and limited humanitarian missions when no combat is foreseen, combating piracy and conducting training exercises.

"This is not a political issue," Webb said Monday. "We would be facing the exact same constitutional challenges no matter the party of the president. In fact, unless we resolve this matter, there is no doubt that we someday will.

"This legislation will serve as a necessary safety net to protect the integrity and the intent of the Constitution itself," he added. "It will ensure that the Congress lives up not only to its prerogatives, which were so carefully laid out by our Founding Fathers, but also to its responsibilities."