House Defense Bill Contains Jaw-Dropping War Powers

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Many members of Congress would have you believe they are worried that the White House has overstepped its authority by waging war in Libya. Only Congress can declare war, they say, and the 1973 War Powers Resolution helps make this clear.

That’s why a provision in the Pentagon’s annual authorization bill that has already passed in the House is such an eyebrow-raiser. It seems to grant the White House the power to go to war pretty much anywhere, anytime. “This is huge. This is massive,” Human Rights Watch’s Andrea Prasow says about the little-known provision tucked into section 1034 of the House bill. “This says to the president, you go figure it out. We are at war with whoever you call al-Qaeda wherever they are.”

That does seem to be what the bill says. It gives the president the power to use “all necessary and appropriate force during the armed conflict with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces.” The bill then defines the conflict as against “nations, organizations, and persons who are part of, or substantially supporting al-Qaeda, the Taliban or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners.”

That language amends the original use of force resolution passed by Congress just after the 9-11 attacks. That resolution requires that force be limited to “nations, organizations, or persons (the president) determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks” on 9-11.

Michigan Republican Rep. Justin Amash tried to strike that language on the House floor last month. Amash called the language “the broadest authorization for use of military force Congress has ever considered. In doing so, it essentially delegates nearly all of Congress’ constitutional war powers to the President.”

Amash’s effort failed in a 187 – 234 floor vote. Twenty of Amash’s GOP colleagues joined him.

The Senate version of the authorization bill does not contain a similar provision. Prasow hopes the final bill that goes to the White House will not include it either.