Our founders wisely kept the power to fund a war separate from the power to conduct a war. In their brilliant design of our system of government, Congress got the power of the purse, and the president got the power of the sword. As James Madison wrote, “Those who are to conduct a war cannot in the nature of things, be proper or safe judges, whether a war ought to be commenced, continued or concluded.”
Earlier this week, I chaired a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee to remind my colleagues in the Senate that, through the power of the purse, we have the constitutional power to end a war. At the hearing, a wide range of constitutional scholars agreed that Congress can use its power to end a military engagement.
The Constitution gives Congress the explicit power “[to] declare War,” “[t]o raise and support Armies,” “[t]o provide and maintain a Navy” and “[t]o make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces.” In addition, under Article I, “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.” These are direct quotes from the Constitution of the United States. Yet to hear some in the Administration talk, it is as if these powers were written in invisible ink. They were not. These powers are a clear and direct statement from the founders of our republic that Congress has authority to declare, to define and, ultimately, to end a war.
If and when Congress acts on the will of the American people by ending our involvement in the Iraq war, Congress will be performing the role assigned it by the founding fathers—defining the nature of our military commitments and acting as a check on a president whose policies are weakening our nation.
There is plenty of precedent for Congress exercising its constitutional authority to stop U.S. involvement in armed conflict.
In late December 1970, Congress prohibited the use of funds for introducing United States ground combat troops into Cambodia or providing U.S. advisors to Cambodian military forces. In late June 1973, Congress set a date to cut off funds for combat activities in Southeast Asia.
More recently, President Clinton signed into law language that prohibited funding after March 31, 1994, for military operations in Somalia, with certain limited exceptions. And in 1998, Congress passed spending legislation that prevented U.S. troops from serving in Bosnia after June 30, 1998, unless the president made certain assurances.
Congress has the power to end military engagements, and there is little doubt that decisive action from the Congress is needed to end U.S. involvement in the war in Iraq. Despite the results of the election, and two months of study and supposed consultation—during which experts and members of Congress from across the political spectrum argued for a new policy—the president has decided to escalate the war. When asked whether he would persist in this policy despite congressional opposition, he replied: “Frankly, that’s not their responsibility.”
Last week Vice President Cheney was asked whether the non-binding resolution passed by the Foreign Relations Committee that will soon be considered by the full Senate would deter the president from escalating the war. He replied: “It’s not going to stop us.”
In the United States of America, the people are sovereign, not the president. It is Congress’ responsibility to challenge an administration that persists in a war that is misguided and that the nation opposes. We cannot simply wring our hands and complain about the administration’s policy. We cannot just pass resolutions saying “your policy is mistaken.” And we can’t stand idly by and tell ourselves that it’s the president’s job to fix the mess he made. It’s our job to fix the mess, too, and if we don’t do so we are abdicating our responsibilities.
Yesterday, I introduced legislation that will prohibit the use of funds to continue the deployment of U.S. forces in Iraq six months after enactment. By prohibiting funds after a specific deadline, Congress can force the president to bring our forces out of Iraq and out of harm’s way.
This legislation will allow the president adequate time to redeploy our troops safely from Iraq, and it will make specific exceptions for a limited number of U.S. troops who must remain in Iraq to conduct targeted counter-terrorism and training missions and protect U.S. personnel. It will not hurt our troops in any way—they will continue receiving their equipment, training, salaries, etc. It will simply prevent the president from continuing to deploy them to Iraq. By passing this bill, we can finally focus on repairing our military and countering the full range of threats that we face around the world.
As the hearing I chaired in the Senate Judiciary Committee made clear, this legislation is fully consistent with the Constitution of the United States. Since the president is adamant about pursuing his failed policies in Iraq, Congress has the duty to stand up and use its constitutional power to stop him. If Congress doesn’t stop this war, it’s not because it doesn’t have the power. It’s because it doesn’t have the will.
Russ Feingold is a United States senator from Wisconsin.
© 2007 TomPaine.com