Congress Can Restore the Balance of Government | Sojourners

Congress Can Restore the Balance of Government

Image via REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

In my 20s, I found myself deeply engaged in Congress’ conflict with the president over the Vietnam War. Sen. Mark Hatfield, whom I served as legislative assistant, was a strong opponent of the war. He was repelled by its misguided purpose and cruel barbarity. So, Hatfield joined with Sen. George McGovern to sponsor legislation to cut off funding for the Vietnam War. A version came within one vote of passing the Senate.

In the aftermath of Vietnam, Congress passed the War Powers Act in 1973, over the veto of President Nixon. It stipulates that the president should inform Congress 48 hours after initiating the military in any hostile action, and then limits the president for 60 days in carrying out such actions before Congress declares war or passes a proper authorizing action. It was an attempt to find a compromise between Congress’ power to declare war and a president’s need to take immediate military action in certain situations. Nearly every president since, Republican and Democrat, has bristled under its provisions. Further, Congress has largely abdicated its responsibilities to enforce the War Powers Act provisions.

Measures for Congress to limit President Trump’s military actions against Iran without proper congressional authorization are the next step in attempts to restore the proper balance between Congress and the president.

Representative Elissa Slotkin, a former CIA analyst, has introduced such a resolution in the House, scheduled for a vote Thursday.* Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) has sponsored a similar measure in the Senate, co-sponsored by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah). 

These proposals are not partisan. They continue an effort by Republican Sen. Mark O. Hatfield and Democratic Sen. George McGovern to restore congressional responsibility in decisions about war, as stipulated by the Constitution. Given the reckless and impulsive nature of President Trump’s military actions, as evidenced in the past week, the need for Congress to undertake such measures is more urgent than ever, since the time of the undeclared, disastrous 20-year war in Vietnam.

Editor's Update: H.Con.REs 83 passed the House on Jan. 9.

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