by Sam Milgrom, Washington Legislative Office of ACLU.org
The House just passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), including a provision to authorize worldwide war, which has no expiration date and will allow this president — and any future president — to go to war anywhere in the world, at any time, without further congressional authorization. The new authorization wouldn’t even require the president to show any threat to the national security of the United States. The American military could become the world’s cop, and could be sent into harm’s way almost anywhere and everywhere around the globe.
Editor’s Note: Read details of this extremely important bill, H.R. 1540, at Thomas.gov with final vote results here. Bravo to Rep. Justin Amash (D, Mich) for introducing Amendment 327 to strike section 1034 of the bill, relating to the authorization for use of military force. Sadly, the amendment failed 187-234 (see roll call vote results). Rep. Jason Chaffetz (D., Utah) introduced an amendment requiring US ground troops to withdraw from Afghanistan and require the Secretary of Defense to submit a withdrawal plan to Congress within 60 days. It, too, failed, 123-294. List of all amendments and results here.
Before the vote, the House debated an amendment that would have struck the worldwide war provision. That amendment was introduced by a bipartisan group of representatives: Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas). Given the enormity of the proposed law, you’d expect the House to debate the amendment to strike it extensively, but that’s not what happened. The amendment was debated for a total of 20 minutes. That’s right. Twenty minutes to debate whether Congress should hand the executive branch sweeping worldwide war authority.
The vote on the amendment took place earlier this afternoon, and it failed on the House floor by a vote of 187-in favor to 234-opposed. Check the vote here.
But not to worry, all of your efforts to bring the importance of the new law and the amendment to strike it to your representatives’ attention have not been in vain — we promise. Today’s vote marks the end only of the first stage in our opposition to an authorization of endless worldwide war for the president and to be honest, we came out looking pretty good.
Though it is a bit awkward to celebrate a loss, a margin of defeat of only 47 votes on a provision that most people were unaware of as recently as two weeks ago is a big step forward. The momentum is on our side. And the Obama administration helped efforts to turn the tide when it issued a threat earlier this week to veto the NDAA if it contained such board sweeping language for worldwide war.
Your answers to the call for action and the expedient work of a bipartisan group of members of Congress and their staff have our opposition movement very well positioned as we prepare for the next hurdle–the Senate.
The Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled to begin its markup of the NDAA beginning on June 13. Watch for updates as we continue on this important issue.
House approves $690 billion defense budget
By Agence France-Presse Thursday, May 26th, 2011 RawStory.com
WASHINGTON — The US House of Representatives passed a $690 billion Pentagon budget Thursday that bars American ground forces in Libya and limits the Obama administration’s powers on handling Guantánamo detainees.
Lawmakers voted 322-96 in favor of the budget plan which met the Defense Department’s request for $119 billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It also placed restrictions on President Barack Obama’s authority to reduce the US nuclear weapons stockpile under the new START treaty with Russia, prompting a White House veto threat earlier this week.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon said the bill “mandates fiscal responsibility within the Department of Defense” as the United States struggles to recover from its worst recession in decades by cutting “wasteful” programs and using the funds for “higher priorities.”
Shortly before passing the bill, which must now be reconciled with a Senate version, the House narrowly defeated by 215-204 an amendment demanding an accelerated timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan.
“It’s more than people are weary,” said Democratic Congressman Jim McGovern, who sponsored the measure. “They’re frustrated and not quite sure what we’re doing there. We got (Osama) bin Laden.”
Lawmakers also rejected by 234 votes to 184 a separate measure sponsored by Republican Representative Jason Chaffetz and Democrat Peter Welch calling for a US withdrawal from the nearly decade-old war now that the Al-Qaeda leader is dead at the hands of US special forces.
The vote nonetheless showed a significant increase in the number of legislators supporting a US pull-out.
In an overwhelming 416-5 vote, lawmakers barred US troops or private security contractors from operating on the ground in Libya, where rebels are fighting a fierce war against loyalist forces to oust longtime leader Moamer Kadhafi, except to rescue a US service member from “imminent danger.”
Another approved measure “would clarify that the United States Congress has not authorized military actions in Libya,” reflecting lawmakers’ complaints that Obama had violated the 1973 War Powers Resolution by not obtaining congressional approval for US military operations there.
Anti-war Congressman Dennis Kucinich said the votes indicated “growing” opposition to the now NATO-led air war in Libya, which the Pentagon says will cost the United States an estimated $750 million by the end of September.
“Congress is not satisfied with the blank check that this administration has written for itself to conduct the Libyan war,” said the Ohio Democrat, who has proposed a resolution due to be debated next week that directs Obama to withdraw all US forces from the fight.
“Congress has drawn a line in the sand. We will not stand for mission creep that puts boots on the ground in Libya. Further attempts to expand the Libyan war will not be tolerated,” he said.
Lawmakers backed a Republican proposal to keep terror suspects at Guantánamo Bay, where they would be prosecuted in special military tribunals, and barring them from being tried on US soil.
The measure would also complicate Obama administration efforts to transfer to third countries any of the 171 detainees who remain at the US naval base in southern Cuba.
“Terrorists with ties to known terror organizations such as Al-Qaeda should not be afforded the same constitutional protections as American citizens,” said Representative Vern Buchanan, the Republican who sponsored the amendment.
“Using military tribunals to interrogate, prosecute and sentence foreign terrorists who conspire or attack the United States is a far better way to handle these kinds of sensitive matters.”
The defense bill would prevent the Obama administration from spending public funds to retire any nuclear warheads covered by the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia unless it certifies the remaining arsenal would be modernized.
It also limits funding for a new generation of fighter jets — the F-35 — unless an alternate engine is developed, which the Obama administration has opposed as an unnecessary cost. The White House objected to that requirement as well.