- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 8, 2007

House Democrats’ new plan to place conditions on the Bush administration’s request for more money to fund the war in Iraq is only the latest in a long list of legislative attempts to restrict a president’s ability to run a military operation.

“This conflict is nothing new,” said Susan Low Bloch, a Georgetown University constitutional law specialist. “The framers of the Constitution deliberately structured the powers so there would be clashes [over war powers] and to make sure neither [Congress nor the White House] would go it alone.”

The Constitution gives the White House sole authorization to prosecute a war. But it also grants Congress the responsibility to pay for any military actions, causing bitter standoffs over the years between the branches of government.

“The thing about the Constitution is it gives the federal government a lot of power but then divides up that power,” said Donald Ritchie, associate historian at the Senate Historical Office. “The historian Edward Corwin said it well: ‘The Constitution is an invitation to struggle.’ ”

Significant opposition in Congress was raised to the War of 1812, particularly from lawmakers from Northern states that depended on trade with Britain. Many members of the Federalist Party, whose stronghold was New England, refused to cooperate with the war effort, but the party lacked the political clout to stop or limit the war.

When a civil war broke out in Nicaragua in the 1920s, President Coolidge sent troops to protect U.S. interests. Congress eventually became weary of the occupation and voted in 1932 to cut funding for the troops, ending U.S. military presence in the Central American country.

In the 1930s, as fear rose that the United States could be dragged into another major war in Europe, Congress enacted several laws prohibiting war aid to European allies.

President Roosevelt, eager to assist Britain and France in their struggles against Nazi Germany, circumvented Congress by “trading” military equipment to U.S. allies.

“There are certain limits to what Congress can do in restricting a president’s ability to operate a war,” Mr. Ritchie said. “The president has more flexibility in this than Congress.”

Congress tried using its power of the purse strings several times in the early 1970s in an attempt to curb President Nixon’s war policy in Vietnam and Southeast Asia.

One of the most high-profile attempts was the Cooper-Church amendment of 1970, which barred U.S. ground troops from entering Cambodia and limited bombing inside that country.

By the time the law took effect in early 1971, ground forces had officially withdrawn from Cambodia, but bombing raids continued for another two years.

In 1970, Congress repealed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution of 1964, which gave President Johnson authorization to use military force in Vietnam without a formal declaration of war by Congress.

Mr. Nixon ignored the repeal, saying the resolution was never needed to use force in Southeast Asia, historians say.

“Congress is supposed to hold the purse strings, but they’re not supposed to micromanage a war,” Mrs. Low Bloch said.


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