Image: Libya graffiti
Sergey Ponomarev  /  AP
Libyans walk past graffiti depicting Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi in the rebel-held Benghazi, Libya, Monday, July 4, 2011.
updated 7/5/2011 5:03:19 PM ET 2011-07-05T21:03:19

Senate Democratic leaders abandoned plans for a test vote Tuesday on authorizing the U.S. military operation against Libya as Republicans insisted they should instead focus on government spending and the nation's borrowing limit.

Just hours before the vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced the change in plans, leaving the fate of the resolution in doubt. One after another, GOP senators had stood on the Senate floor and signaled they would oppose any effort to move ahead on the Libya measure, arguing that dealing with the debt was far more important than working on a resolution with no practical impact.

The Senate had already canceled this week's recess to deal with the financial issue.

"No real work is scheduled in the Senate this week on the budget, nor is any on the debt ceiling," said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. "Instead, we are moving today to a Libya resolution. This resolution, not requested by the president, is not why we asked to cancel recess."

At least five Republican senators indicated they would oppose the vote.

"If the resolution we're debating is debated and passed, it would not affect one iota what we're doing in Libya," said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Video: Sanders: We need 'shared sacrifice on budget' (on this page)

Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said the Senate could have the Libya debate at another time.

Congress was already sending a muddled message on Libya to both U.S. allies and Moammar Gadhafi.

Bipartisan Senate support for giving President Barack Obama limited authority to continue military involvement against Gadhafi was at odds with overwhelming opposition in the House to the commander in chief's actions. Democrats as well as Republicans in the House have criticized Obama for failing to seek congressional consent for the operation in a constitutional stalemate that has dragged on for weeks.

The Senate had scheduled a vote on whether to proceed with a resolution authorizing "the limited use of United States Armed Forces in support of the NATO mission in Libya." The resolution would expire when the NATO operation ends or after one year, and it would prohibit the use of American ground forces or private security contractors in Libya. The Foreign Relations Committee easily adopted the measure on a 14-5 vote last week.

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Leading backers of the resolution include Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., and John McCain of Arizona, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee. They have been the strongest voices in the Senate for the military action against Gadhafi's forces. Also sponsoring the resolution are Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, the No. 2 Republican, and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

Since NATO took command of the Libya operation in early April, the U.S. role has largely been limited to support efforts such as intelligence, surveillance and electronic warfare. The U.S. has launched airstrikes and drone attacks, flying more than 3,400 sorties.

"In Libya today, no American troop is being shot at," Kerry said last week.

But that hasn't silenced the congressional debate pitting the executive branch against the legislative.

Obama last week defended his decision to order U.S. military action more than three months ago and insisted he had not violated the 1973 War Powers Resolution, which demands congressional authorization within 60 days of first military strikes. The president contends American forces supporting the NATO-led operation are not engaged in full-blown hostilities, making congressional consent unnecessary.

Video: Thousands turn out for pro-Gadhafi rally (on this page)

Even members of the Foreign Relations Committee, which backed the resolution, rejected Obama's legal argument that the operation does not constitute full-blown hostilities. The panel adopted an amendment that specified the operation included "hostilities" that fall under the War Powers Resolution and require congressional authorization.

The sponsor of that amendment, Republican Richard Lugar of Indiana, is one of the strongest Senate critics of the Libya operation. He said Obama had ignored Congress, dealing a setback to the Constitution in a "fundamental failure of leadership that placed expedience above constitutional responsibility."

Lugar, the top GOP lawmaker on the Foreign Relations panel, also questioned the expensive, open-ended commitment of U.S. forces. Last month, the White House put the cost of U.S. military operations in Libya at about $715 million, with the total increasing to $1.1 billion by early September.

"Let us be clear that we are deliberately trying to overthrow the government of Libya with military force," Lugar said on the Senate floor.

In Libya on Tuesday, at least 11 people were killed in fighting that began late Monday and continued Tuesday as Gadhafi forces stepped up pressure to try to block rebel fighters from advancing toward the capital of Tripoli, rebels said.

Libyan government troops have been unable to retake two main rebel strongholds in the west — Misrata and several towns in the Nafusa mountain range. The rebels have been trying to break out of those bridgeheads.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Sanders: We need 'shared sacrifice on budget'

  1. Closed captioning of: Sanders: We need 'shared sacrifice on budget'

    >>> there's no end to the stalemate. signs of friction within the nato coalition. how this vote goes, what happens today, what amendments get on there over the week? this could actually be the newsier topic of the week more so than the debt deadline, but we're going to go to the deadline. it's on everybody's mind. as we know, the first order of business is going to be the procedural vote on libya . with me now, vermont independent senator, senator sanders . i want to talk about your plan on deficit reduction, but i want to start with libya . how are you going to vote on the libya resolution?

    >> i'm going to take a hard look at it. i've never been terribly enthusiastic in america involvement in libya . we're spending a huge amount of money on two wars. we're taking casualties. enough is enough.

    >> you heard the president last week, he was basically arguing that this does not go near the war powers act . that the war powers act , we could have a debate about it separately, but what was going on in libya didn't touch it. do you agree with him?

    >> i tell you what i really think. i have to tell you, chuck, i think the budget is what people are worried about. what i'm concerned about is the republican budget which said we're going to cut trillions of dollars in programs for the most vulnerable people in this country at the same time giving huge tax breaks to the wealthiest people . i put up a letter on my website a week ago. we have 110,000 signatures that says this country needs shared sacrifice if we go forward with deficit reduction. at a time when the wealthiest people and the largest corporations are doing phenomenally well, they have to participate in help us balance the budget.

    >> i'm going to that topic in a second. on the war powers act , do you agree with the president that libya does not touch the war powers act ?

    >> i think the war powers act has been violated many times. i think this effort is also in violation of the war powers act .

    >> i do want to move to your plan. you were giving a little bit of a preview of it. yours has to do with possibly putting a millionaire's tax in. are you open to the idea that whatever tax increases that, in the same way that the bush tax cuts supposedly had a cutoff where they would expire, that a tax hike also would expire after a certain amount of time and the economy grew? are you open to something like that on any of these negotiations when they're talking about revenues?

    >> right now, you have major corporations, general electric among many others making billions of dollars in profits, paying in some cases not one penny in taxes. you have the richest people in this country whose effective tax rate is the lowest in modern american history . do i think you cut social security , medicare and medicaid which is what republicans want to do and say to the richest people in this country, sorry we don't touch you? i think that is absurd. i believe that half of deficit reduction has got to come from the wealthiest folks and the largest corporations. i think we also need significant cuts in military spending .

    >> right now, the debate is over how much to cut, not necessarily what to cut. is this something that concerns you that the white house is allowed the debate to be more about how much to cut and there hasn't been enough talk about what is being cut, what should be cut and what shouldn't be?

    >> it's not only what should be cut and what shouldn't be cut. certainly to my mind, if you're looking at cuts, we have to remember that military spending has been triple since 1997 . we have weapons systems that are fighting for soviet union . you have to take a hard look at military spending . furthermore, 50 million americans have no health insurance today to do as the republicans want, to throw millions of children off of medicaid or to do away with medicare as we know it, to me, is beyond comprehension. do the wealthiest corporations contribute to tax reduction?

    >> if the dealing on the debt ceiling is something along the lines that seems to be out there, $2 trillion in cuts that would include some cuts in medicare and medicaid , not to beneficiaries, and some nixing of loopholes, it wouldn't be your ideal scenario, but could you support something like that?

    >> the devil is always in the details. this is not bernie sanders . i'm sure you are familiar with all the polls out there. you know when they ask people what's the most preferred way to deal with deficit reduction? you know what people say? they say ask the wealthy to start paying more in taxes. this is not bernie sanders ' idea. this is poll after poll. i think it's time for congress to listen to the american people .

    >> you're right. you see this, particularly if you define wealthy as over $1 million, you get into the debate of what's wealthy. when you define wealthy over $1 million, there is public support for that. why do you think the white house won't touch it?

    >> well, forget the white house for the moment. why is it the republicans want to give tax breaks ? they not only want to ask the wealthy to pay more in taxes, they want to give them a trillion dollars more in tax breaks . the wealthy and their lobbyists are powerful in washington. they make enormous amounts of campaign contributions. nobody i know, quite honestly, you say let's see, we're going to cut social security , medicare, medicaid and nutrition. we're going to give tax breaks to millionaires. do you know how many people that makes sense to? nobody outside of washington, d.c. the man we're making for the president is to stand tall, fight back. he did not do that in the last two negotiations. if he says to the american people we're going to stand with you, we're not going to balance the budget on the backs of the middle class and working families, i think he's going to have the support of the american people behind him. we're going to put the republicans on the defensive and you're going to get a fair and good economic policy deficit reduction package.

    >> senator bernie sanders . thanks for joining me this morning. i

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