Congress has the power to expand or constrain the president's war-making abilities. But what if it declines to exercise it?
It's becoming ever more clear that lawmakers lack the appetite to take responsibility for President Obama's war against ISIS. The White House, after a long delay, sent Congress a proposed authorization for the use of military force in February. (The AUMF has become the modern-day equivalent of a declaration of war.) Never mind that the U.S. military had already been bombing ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria for half a year, nor that those airstrikes have continued throughout the two months that Congress has spent reviewing the three-page proposal.
In the last week, the top two Republican leaders in the House have confirmed that Obama's war proposal is going nowhere, and lawmakers are in no hurry to pass an alternative. Kevin McCarthy, the majority leader, told reporters the administration's draft simply could not garner the 218 votes it needed to pass the House. In effect, the president had invited Congress both to approve and to limit his authority to take on ISIS. The proposal's prohibition of the use of "enduring offensive ground combat operations" was intended to draw support from war-weary Democrats, but it ran into opposition from Republican leaders who didn't want to constrain the military. And with liberals complaining that even that language was too broad, it seems nearly impossible that Congress will achieve a consensus on exactly what it wants to allow Obama to do.