What Is the War Powers Resolution of 1973?

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, sent President Obama a letter Tuesday claiming that he will soon be in violation of the War Powers Resolution, as the 90-day mark of the U.S.’ involvement in NATO air strikes in Libya approaches.

Boehner reminded the president that is bound by the Constitution to ensure “laws be faithfully executed,” including the War Powers Resolution:

"Given the mission you have ordered to the U.S. Armed Forces with respect to Libya and the text of the War Powers Resolution, the House is left to conclude that you have made one of two determinations: either you have concluded the War Powers Resolution does not apply to the mission in Libya, or you have determined the War Powers Resolution is contrary to the Constitution," he wrote.

As Politico’s Jonathan Allen reported, Boehner had previously voted to repeal the law in 1995 on the grounds that it excessively hampered the president’s role as commander-in-chief. However, a spokesman for Speaker Boehner said that those views did not contradict the assertion that the president must uphold the laws as they are.

(White House photo)

President Obama is expected to issue a formal response Wednesday. White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said in a statement that they “are in the final stages of preparing extensive information for the House and Senate that will address a whole host of issues about our ongoing efforts in Libya.”

So what exactly is the The War Powers Act of 1973?

Let’s start at the Library of Congress. They offer an overview this way:

"The Constitution of the United States divides the war powers of the federal government between the Executive and Legislative branches: the President is the Commander in Chief of the armed forces (Article II, section 2), while Congress has the power to make declarations of war, and to raise and support the armed forces (Article I, section 8). Over time, questions arose as to the extent of the President’s authority to deploy U.S. armed forces into hostile situations abroad without a declaration of war or some other form of Congressional approval. Congress passed the War Powers Resolution in the aftermath of the Vietnam War to address these concerns and provide a set of procedures for both the President and Congress to follow in situations where the introduction of U.S. forces abroad could lead to their involvement in armed conflict.”

President Nixon actually vetoed the law in 1973, so the war powers act is a joint resolution of Congress, which has most the same legal effects as a piece of signed legislation. However, as the LOC explains, several U.S. presidents have taken the stance that the resolution is an infringement of executive branch powers - so its authority has often been a matter of debate.

Included in the text of the act, is language that mandates that “the president shall submit within 48 hours to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and to the President pro tempore of the Senate” a report explaining any military action taken without a vote in Congress.

The text goes on to say that military action is not expected to last more than 90 days unless Congress has a) declared war, b) authorized the use of force, c) extended the 90-day window or d) cannot meet with Congress because the U.S. is under attack.

That 90-day deadline is the one that Boehner is pushing the president to observe on the Libya conflict.

Time Magazine’s Swampland blog digs into how the war powers act has been routinely ignored in matters of military action:

"[P]residents and Congresses have routinely ignored the resolution during military campaigns in the former Yugoslavia, Haiti, Kosovo and Somalia. In the past, Presidents have skirted the resolution by arguing that congressional funding of the conflicts implies consent."

In fact, even the timeline for the 90 days is under debate. The Washington Post examined whether Boehner might actually be 30 days late challenging President Obama on the deadline.

For more reading and background, here’s the New York Times topic page on the war powers act.

Updated 6:50 pm ET: The White House has released this defense of the Obama administration’s actions in Libya.

(BY News Desk)

For more on the political battle over the conflict in Libya and the War Powers Act, watch Wednesday’s PBS NewsHour.

(Source: newshour.pbs.org)