House sets up Friday vote on limiting funding for Libya mission

The House is expected to vote Friday on legislation to limit funding for the U.S. military mission in Libya after Republican leaders scrambled to re-write an initial proposal announced by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

Boehner on Tuesday night presented two proposals that would allow lawmakers to vote to either authorize or end the U.S. combat mission.

The original plan was to vote on both Thursday, but after a closed-door conference meeting on Wednesday GOP leaders set out to revise the second measure so that it restricts funding for the mission in the current fiscal year without “undercutting our NATO allies,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said.

The House Rules Committee postponed a meeting Wednesday to craft procedures for the bills, and a floor vote will not occur until Friday, aides said.

The developments underscored the competing pressures Boehner is facing as he tries to manage widespread Republican discontent over the Libya mission and President Obama’s refusal to seek formal authorization from Congress. Many GOP lawmakers want to cut funding for the operation altogether, while others are wary of taking action that undermines America’s relationship with its NATO allies.

On of the initial proposals outlined by Boehner directed the president, under the 1973 War Powers Resolution, to remove U.S. forces from Libya within 15 days except for those engaged in search and rescue, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, aerial refueling and operational planning.

But GOP lawmakers pushed for legislation restricting funding for the mission, believing it would have more teeth than a resolution that the president would surely ignore, if it passed only the House.

The other resolution introduced Tuesday would authorize the mission, and is identical to a version Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.) have offered in the Senate, where there is more support for the president’s policy. That measure will also come up for a vote on Friday, but Boehner told reporters earlier Wednesday that the House is unlikely to support it.

“I don’t think that’s where the House is,” the Speaker said. “The fact is the president has not made his case to the members of Congress, he has not made his case to the American people. We’ve been in this conflict for 90 days and the president hasn’t talked to the American people for four or five weeks about why we’re there, what our national interest is and why we should continue.”

The McCain-Kerry language would authorize a limited U.S. role in the NATO-led mission for a year but would not authorize ground troops, which Obama has already ruled out.

During the House GOP conference meeting Boehner did not lobby members in either direction, lawmakers said. He told them to “vote your convictions,” according to Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.).

Yet not a single Republican spoke up in favor of the McCain-Kerry authorization, Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) said.

“There was broad opposition to the president,” King said after the meeting. Boehner, he said, “was critical of the president, but he didn’t suggest which [resolution] we go for.”

Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.), who has pushed for Congress to enforce the War Powers Resolution, said before the conference meeting that he and others wanted a resolution that would restrict funding for the mission rather than simply withdraw forces. 

After the meeting, Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Texas), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said the resolution could be reworked to base its restrictions on the Obama administration’s claim that the U.S. is not engaged in “hostilities” under the legal definition of the word. “It would not have funding for hostilities. In other words, the drones couldn’t be used for bombing,” McKeon said.

The House is separately expected to vote on amendments to a Defense appropriations bill this week that would restrict or entirely cut off funding for the Libya mission. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) introduced an amendment Wednesday that would eliminate such funding, and he said 10 lawmakers had initially signed on as co-sponsors, including four Republicans.

The Libya debate has split Republicans in the House and Senate, leading Democrats to accuse the House GOP of pestering Obama for political gain.

“[They've] clearly decided to use the War Powers Resolution as a political bludgeon to pursue a partisan agenda,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Wednesday. The McCain-Kerry resolution, he said, “should have overwhelming support, as I'm confident it will.”

Reid’s counterpart in the Senate, Republican leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), acknowledged Wednesday that politics were affecting support for Obama’s policy among Republicans. “I think there are clearly differences and I think a lot of our members not having a Republican in the White House feel more free to kind of express their reservations, which might have been somewhat muted during the previous administration,” McConnell said at a breakfast sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor.

—Alexander Bolton and Elise Viebeck contributed.