Want Congress to Stop the War in Libya? Don’t Hold Your Breath

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This week the House is likely to pass an amendment to a Pentagon spending bill that would cut off funds for the war in Libya. The vote reflects the momentum behind a coalition of liberal Democrats opposed to the war and Republicans who want to rebuke the White House for failing to seek approval for the war from Congress.

That vote, however, marks where that momentum likely ends. Despite the buzz in the news, Congress is not likely to cut off money for the war in Libya anytime soon.  “The House is likely to cut off funds, but it is not likely to be enacted into law,” said John Isaacs, the executive director of the Council for a Livable World who closely tracks defense issues in Congress.

The House is set to vote on an amendment, possibly a version drifted by anti-war Democrat Rep. Dennis Kucinich, to a Pentagon spending bill that would cut off money for the war in Libya. A consortium of Republicans who believe the White House is in violation of the 1973 War Powers Resolution is likely to join that effort. (The resolution requires U.S. forces to withdraw within 90 days from a conflict if Congress has not approved the operation. The White House is making the dubious argument that the war in Libya does not meet the resolution’s definition of “hostilities.”)

First of all, the Senate is unlikely to take up the Pentagon spending bill for months. When it does, a similar effort in that chamber to cut off Libya money would face stiff headwinds from Republicans like South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and Arizona Sen. John McCain, who sometimes seem to support any war, anywhere, anytime, and White House allies like Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry. So the amendment might not pass the Senate even if that vote occurred months from now.

And even if it did pass the Senate, President Obama would probably veto the bill, kicking it back to Congress where the Libya war opponents would need to muster a two-thirds majority in both chambers to trample the veto.

Short version: Don’t hold your breath for Congress to stop the war in Libya anytime soon, or at all.