A House Democrat warned Friday that the U.S. president is becoming an "absolute monarch" on matters related to the authority to start a war.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said Congress must act to limit funding for military operations in Libya in order to correct that trend.
"We have been sliding for 70 years to a situation where Congress has nothing to do with the decision about whether to go to war or not, and the president is becoming an absolute monarch," Nadler said on the floor. "And we must put a stop to that right now, if we don't want to become an empire instead of a republic."
Nadler stressed that he is not talking exclusively about "this president," meaning President Obama. But he said nonetheless that Congress needs to reassert its authority to declare war, and said this should be done even over concerns that it would damage U.S. credibility with its NATO allies.
"I think that the nation's credibility, that is to say its promise to go to war as backed by the president, not by the Congress, ought to be damaged," he said.
"And if foreign countries learn that they cannot depend on American military intervention unless Congress is aboard for the ride, good," he added. "That's a good thing."
Members of the House early Friday morning were debating a rule allowing for consideration of H.J.Res. 68, which would authorize continued operations in Libya, and H.R. 2278, which would limit funding for those operations.
Members of Congress have been clashing with the White House over the Libya mission. Many Republicans and some Democrats argue that President Obama does not have the authority to continue involving the U.S. in the NATO-led mission without congressional authorization.
The White House argues the U.S. role in Libya does not constitute "hostilities" and is therefore not covered under the 1973 War Powers Resolution, which requires the president to seek authorization from Congress 60 days after notifying lawmakers of a military action.
H.R. 2278 is seen as tough and is expected to pass. However, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) stressed repeatedly that the exceptions in H.R. 2278 would essentially allow the U.S. military to continue the operations it is already involved in, and recommended a vote against both bills.
Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), the ranking member of the House Rules Committee, said in the debate that it is "shameful" the way House Republicans have rushed through both bills. She said much more debate was allowed decades earlier when Congress considered launching the Persian Gulf War, and even apologized to future generations for the rushed consideration regarding Libya.
"We avoid the robust debates that preceded us here today," she said. "Indeed, the way in which today's measures are being debated shames the dignity, history and tradition of this body.
"I really regret the shameful way this important debate has been rushed through Congress and I apologize to future generations who will look back on the work that we are doing today to try to understand the time," she added.