House is set to cut back Libya mission funds

The House is likely Friday to approve legislation restricting funds for the military intervention in Libya, escalating a dispute with the White House over war powers. 

Lawmakers will vote on two Libya-related measures, but it is the one striking funding for hostile military activities that has the most support from the GOP majority as well as many Democrats, according to aides in both parties. 

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Aides said a second resolution authorizing the limited U.S. military mission, which is modeled after a Senate bill, is likely to fail because of GOP anger at President Obama’s lack of consultation with Congress. 

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Thursday defended the House’s move to confront Obama over his Libya policy, criticizing Obama’s strategy and the White House communication with Congress. 

“This is primarily a fight between the Congress and the president over his unwillingness to consult with us before making this decision,” Boehner said. 

Many Democrats might also support the restrictive measure, and Democratic leaders said they would not whip on either of the resolutions.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday reiterated her support for the Libya mission, saying Obama “has the latitude to do what he is doing as long as there are no boots on the ground.” But she also noted there are “legitimate concerns in both parties” about the sweep of the War Powers Resolution, which requires the president to ask for authorization from Congress on military actions within 60 days.

The White House has argued the resolution has not been triggered because U.S. actions in Libya do not constitute “hostilities.” 

The administration on Thursday dispatched Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the Capitol to sell House Democrats on the U.S. mission.

In a hastily arranged Democratic Caucus meeting, Clinton made her case against taking any action that would “require a cessation of the operation,” according to a source in attendance. 

Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) would not delve into the details of Clinton’s remarks, but said she asked Democrats to “vote according to America’s values, and as long as the Libyan people are on the side of what America believes in, freedom and democracy, then we should be with them.”

Clinton’s meeting garnered a relatively sparse turnout of lawmakers due to the numerous committee markups occurring on the House side Thursday, and some lawmakers signaled they were likely to support the restrictive measure. 

Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly (Va.), who said he was undecided on Friday’s vote, remained irked that the president failed to make his case for involvement in Libya to Congress.

“The Boehner resolution bought him time to come right with the Lord, in terms of the War Powers, and he’s listened to too many lawyers in the White House,” Connolly said. 

Boehner on Thursday criticized Obama’s strategy as “flawed from the beginning” and said the president had left him with little choice but to put forward the measure restricting the mission, which was demanded by the GOP rank and file.

“Because of the president’s failure to consult with the Congress, failure to outline to the American people why we’re doing this before we engaged in Libya,” Boehner said, “[it] puts us in a position where we have to defend our responsibilities under the Constitution, and that’s why these resolutions are in fact going to come forward.”

The House measure limiting the operation would have little chance of moving through a Senate held by Democrats. It would also be opposed by some Republicans, including Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), who has backed the Libyan mission while criticizing Obama for not working with Congress. 

The U.S. has taken a support role in the mission in Libya that is now led by NATO, and the Pentagon and military leaders have warned lawmakers against limiting their hand. The White House says Congress should not send the wrong signal to either NATO or Col. Moammar Gadhafi, the Libyan dictator. 

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In his comments on Thursday, Boehner said he did not want to undermine NATO. 

“I believe that NATO is an important organization,” he said. “As we’re there, I don’t want to do anything that would undermine NATO or to send a signal to our allies around the world that we are not going to be engaged.”

In advance of Friday’s vote, the White House has intensified its criticism of the House GOP’s actions on Libya. Clinton was quoted Wednesday as asking, while on a trip to Jamaica, “Whose side are they on?”

The resolution authorizing the U.S. mission is modeled on a measure offered in the Senate by John Kerry (D-Mass.) and McCain. It would approve limited U.S. operations for one year but disallow the use of ground forces.

The other measure coming to a House vote is legislation by Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) that would strike current-year defense funding for the Libya mission except for search and rescue, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, aerial refueling and operational planning.

Mike Lillis contributed to this story.