Baker, Christopher: Repeal, replace War Powers Act
Former secretaries of state James A. Baker III and Warren Christopher issued a report today calling the 1973 War Powers Resolution "impractical and ineffective." They urged the next president and Congress to repeal the law and replace it with a new one, the "War Powers Consultation Act of 2009," within 100 days of the new president taking office.
In the report, done under the auspices of the University of Virginia's Miller Center of Public Affairs, the National War Powers Commission notes that all presidents have side-stepped the 1973 law's requirement to file a report to Congress once hostilities start. "This is not healthy. It does not promote the rule of law. It does not send the right message to our troops or to the public. And it does not encourage dialogue or cooperation between the two branches," co-chairs Baker and Christopher and their fellow commissioners write.
They note that some conflicts--including the Vietnam War, the current Iraq war, and the "war on terror," were specifically authorized by Congress, although there has been acrimonious debate ever since about what those authorizations implied. In the first Iraq war, Congress gave its blessing to U.S. military action, but limited it to the enforcement of U.N. Security Council resolutions - ie, expelling Saddam Hussein's troops from Kuwait. In still other instances--the invasion of Grenada in 1983 and Panama in 1989--Congress gave no formal approval.
The new law that the commission proposes is silent on the more than two-century old constitutional debate on what war powers belong with the executive and legislative branches of government. It focuses on the practical, repealing the 1973 law and establishing a Joint Congressional Consultation Committee. The president would be required to consult with this committee before ordering U.S. armed forces into "significant armed conflict." The president would not have to secure Congress' approval, however, but merely consult, and the president could wait until three days after the beginning of conflict if the need for secrecy makes consultation beforehand risky.
Another section of the proposed bill gives Congress more of a say, requiring it to hold a timely vote after the initiation of hostilities. If a resolution of approval is defeated, than a resolution of disapproval would be introduced. It would become law--and force an end to U.S. troop involvement--only if the president signs it, or it is passed over the president's veto.
Is this Constitutional? Practical? Is it likely to end--or even mellow-the War Powers debate?