Last month, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) notably warned of a “constitutional crisis” if Congress tried to influence the President’s conduct of the war in Iraq:
This non-binding measure before us is a first step toward a constitutional crisis that we can and must avoid. … Congress has been given constitutional responsibilities. But the micro-management of war is not one of them. The appropriation of funds for war is.
Likewise, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) argued that Congress has “only one option” to change direction in Iraq — cutting funds for the mission:
If the Senate doesn’t support the mission in Iraq, it has only one option, and that’s to decide whether or not to fund that mission. That’s our constitutional role, and we shouldn’t drag this into the morass of Democratic presidential primary politics.
Lieberman and McConnell are wrong — and they know it. Just eight years ago, McConnell, Lieberman, and others co-sponsored legislation to authorize the deployment of U.S. forces for airstrikes — but not ground forces — in Kosovo.
The Senate did not put McConnell’s words of opposition to ground forces into an authorization, but the House did. On April 28, 1999, with U.S. troops already in combat, the House approved, 249-to-180, a bill to prohibit funds from being used for the deployment of U.S. ground forces into Yugoslavia unless that deployment was specifically authorized by law. Speaking on the House floor, then-House Majority Whip Tom Delay (R-TX) criticized President Clinton’s decision to bomb in Kosovo:
Normally, and I still do, support our military and the fine work that they are doing. But before we get deeper embroiled into this Balkan quagmire, I think that an assessment has to be made of the Kosovo policy so far. Was it worth it to stay in Vietnam to save face? What good has been accomplished so far? Absolutely nothing.
The Lieberman/McConnell “constitutional crisis” is a myth. Their Kosovo bill is just one example of many where Congress has sought (sometimes successfully) to place limits on a president’s war power using means other than simply cutting funds. Full details in this new report by American Progress fellows Mara Rudman and Denis McDonough.