Two top senators on Tuesday unveiled a resolution giving President Barack Obama limited authority in the three-month-old war against Libya, warning that the drastic step of cutting off funds for the military operation would be a lifeline to a weakened Moammar Gadhafi.
Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., and John McCain of Arizona, the leading Republican on the Armed Services Committee, introduced the bipartisan resolution that would allow the mission to continue but would impose a one-year limit on the NATO-led operation, a period McCain said is "more than enough time to finish the job." It also would prohibit American ground forces in Libya.
The measure is a clear counter to efforts in the House to prohibit spending and effectively end the operation, a reflection of the growing Republican and Democratic anger toward Obama and his treatment of Congress. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said lawmakers will consider measures to cut off funds.
"Our members are very frustrated over the president's actions, his lack of positing a clear mission and vision for our involvement in Libya," Cantor told reporters. "Members have not seen the reasons why or why not the president thinks we're involved in hostilities."
The commander in chief did not seek congressional consent when he launched air strikes against Gadhafi's forces on March 19. Lawmakers argue that Obama is in violation of the 1973 War Powers Resolution that requires approval of the legislative branch within 60 days, with a 30-day extension. That deadline has passed.
The White House, in a report to Congress last week, said the limited U.S. role in the operation did not amount to hostilities, an argument that further inflamed lawmakers.
Seeking to quell the outrage, Kerry and McCain proposed their measure and urged lawmakers to consider the implications of abandoning the mission.
"Gadhafi is going to fall. It is just a matter of time," McCain said in a speech on the Senate floor. "Is this the time for Congress to turn against this policy? Is this the time to ride to the rescue of a failing tyrant when the writing is on the wall that he will collapse?"
Said Kerry: "The last message any United States senator wants to send is that this mad man need only wait us out because we are divided at home."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he had the votes to pass the resolution, with the support of all the Democrats and several Republicans, including Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Mike Lee of Utah. The Senate was likely to debate and vote on the measure next week.
Kerry and McCain, their parties' presidential nominees in 2004 and 2008, cautioned against allowing politics to dictate policy.
McCain said Republicans should think long and hard about challenging a Democratic president's authority, saying it could haunt a future president who might be a Republican.
Kerry said a House vote to defund the mission would be "a moment of infamy because it would reinforce the all-too-common misperception on the Arab street that America says one thing and does another."
In the House, Reps. Joe Heck, R-Nev., and Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, are pushing measures to cut off funds for Libya. The House could consider that legislation this week, either as part of a defense spending bill or free-standing legislation.
Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, said cutting off funds "would undermine the confidence of NATO in the ability of the president of the United States to participate in support of an effort that NATO had agreed to, the United Nations had agreed to and the Arab League had agreed to."
In a letter to House members, leading conservatives warned against efforts to stop the mission, arguing against the United States becoming "one of those irresolute allies. The United States must see this effort in Libya through to its conclusion." Among those signing the letter were Karl Rove, former adviser to President George W. Bush, and Liz Cheney, daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney.
But Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said Republicans remain "frustrated that the president has ignored the Congress."