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On Libya, House Is Choosing a Path

Speaker John Boehner is setting up the second showdown with the White House over Libya in less than a month.

The Ohio Republican bowed to his Conference’s demands Wednesday, scrapping a resolution that would curtail the military operation in Libya and instead putting forward a strict funding limitation proposal to rebuke the Obama administration for pursuing military involvement in Libya without seeking the endorsement of Congress. The proposal, several GOP Members said, was more in line with where the Conference stands ideologically on the issue.

“It sounds like most Members of the Conference were getting their heads around this … option, which is really the House’s role as controlling the power of the purse with what we’d be agreeable to funding and what we wouldn’t be,” Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) told reporters after an hourlong impromptu Conference meeting on Libya.

The topic of Libya was expected to dominate the floor Wednesday, but action was postponed following the meeting. Instead, the chamber might vote on two proposals Friday: one that limits funding and a separate resolution that mirrors the proposal by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) that would give Congressional approval to continue U.S. military involvement in Libya for one year.

“You can do resolutions until you’re blue in the face,” said Rooney, who has been an outspoken critic of Obama’s handling of Libya. “If they go to the Senate and they don’t go anywhere, what are you going to do next week?”

It is unclear how much support either proposal has in the House, even though GOP aides predicted the Kerry-McCain measure would fail. While Republicans have kicked up their criticism of the Libyan effort, only some Democrats have been as outspoken, and the Caucus has not yet met to discuss their position. Progressive Caucus Chairman Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) said Tuesday his left-leaning colleagues were splintered on the issue, and he acknowledged their votes could be split between the two proposals ready for Friday.

“You could say, if you’re serious about it, put one down and say, ‘Look, this is hostilities. There’s no doubt the president has the duty and obligation to consult with us under the War Powers Act. Bam,'” Ellison said. Boehner “clearly has created a fudge factor.”

This is not the first time Boehner has given House Members a choice of legislative options on Libya. Earlier this month, he hastily put forward his own resolution calling on Obama to come forward with an explanation for the military effort, which was considered alongside a harsher proposal by staunch anti-war advocate Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) that called for a withdrawal. Boehner’s proposal accomplished two things: It gave Members the chance to stake out a position on Libya, while also splintering the vote on the more drastic Kucinich resolution. Republicans said this week’s vote would accomplish a similar goal and also address the Libya issue before the chamber turns to consider the defense appropriations bill that will give Members a platform to push Libya-related amendments.

“This is a way to get people on the record so that we can move forward with the appropriation bills,” a GOP aide explained. “But if people are taking a stand on the issue, then you kill the other proposals like Kucinich.”

Still, freshman Rep. Bill Huizenga acknowledged the tenuous situation of wanting to rebuke Obama while not setting off an international incident by taking too drastic a position.

“We have to be careful how we extract ourselves both financially and physically,” the Michigan Republican said. “And as we’re dealing with our allies, what exactly does that mean? I don’t want to put our allies in physical jeopardy either, so what does that mean?”

Kucinich was whipping Members on Wednesday, before the GOP Conference meeting, to vote for the resolution that would require U.S. forces to withdrawal from hostilities in Libya. In a “Dear Colleague” letter, the one-time presidential candidate said the vote was a “defining moment.”

“Let us use our constitutional authority to bring an end to a war,” he wrote.

Even as the White House was having difficulty dealing with the issue of Libya, Obama was also running into resistance on his Afghanistan plan, particularly from Republicans.

For much of his time in office, his handling of Afghanistan has been one of the few bipartisan bright spots for Obama. But with war fatigue setting in nationwide, cracks were starting to show in the GOP’s support for the war, and his troop withdrawal plan is doing nothing to shore things up.

For instance, Senate Foreign Relations ranking member Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) rejected the proposed reduction in troop level by 10,000 and insisted that much deeper cuts must be made.

Lugar, who was once one of Obama’s closest GOP allies in the Senate, argued that, in addition to deep cuts in troop levels, “The president should put forward a plan that includes a more narrow definition of success in Afghanistan based on U.S. vital interests and a sober analysis of what is possible to achieve,” including a greater emphasis on counterterrorism and abandoning nation-building efforts.

But Obama’s proposal also took fire from GOP hawks. “I’m disappointed that the president seems to be deciding troop levels not based on conditions on the ground but previous political commitments,” Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.) said before the speech.

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