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The War Powers Resolution: After Twenty-Eight Years

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Publication Date: November 2001

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Series: RL31185

Topic: Government (Executive power)
Military and defense (Military policy)

Abstract:

In the post-Cold War world, Presidents have continued to commit U.S. Armed Forces to potential hostilities without specific authorization from Congress, and the War Powers Resolution has come under new scrutiny. On June 7, 1995 the House defeated, by a vote of 217-201, an amendment to repeal the central features of the War Powers Resolution that have been deemed unconstitutional by every President since the law's enactment in 1973. In 1999, after the President committed U.S. military forces to action in Yugoslavia without Congressional authorization, Rep. Tom Campbell used expedited procedures under the Resolution to force a debate and votes on U.S. military action in Yugoslavia, and later sought, unsuccessfully, through a Federal court suit to enforce Presidential compliance with the terms of the War Powers Resolution.

The War Powers Resolution (P.L. 93-148) was passed over the veto of President Nixon on November 7, 1973, to provide procedures for Congress and the President to participate in decisions to send U.S. Armed Forces into hostilities. Section 4(a)(1) requires the President to report to Congress any introduction of U.S. forces into hostilities or imminent hostilities. When such a report is submitted, or is required to be submitted, section 5(b) requires that the use of forces must be terminated within 60 to 90 days unless Congress authorizes such use or extends the time period. Section 3 requires that the "President in every possible instance shall consult with Congress before introducing" U.S. Armed Forces into hostilities or imminent hostilities.

From 1975 through October 2001, Presidents have submitted ninety-two reports as the result of the War Powers Resolution, but only one, on the 1975 Mayaguez seizure, cited section 4(a)(1) which triggers the time limit, and in this case the military action was completed and U.S. armed forces had disengaged from the area of conflict when the report was made. President Ford submitted four reports, President Carter one, President Reagan fourteen, and President George H. W. Bush six reports. President Clinton submitted 86 reports. President George W. Bush six reports. The reports cover a range of military activities from embassy evacuations to full scale combat military operations, such as the Persian Gulf conflict, the intervention in Kosovo or the anti-terrorism actions in Afghanistan. In some instances U.S. Armed Forces have been used in hostile situations without formal reports to Congress under the War Powers Resolution. Congress determined that the requirements of section 4(a)(1) became operative on August 29, 1983, in the Multinational Force in Lebanon Resolution, and authorized continued U.S. participation in the Multinational Force for 18 months. Congress also authorized the deployment of military personnel to the Sinai to participate in the Multinational Force and Observers, in 1981, and the use of military force against Iraq in 1991.

In several instances neither the President, Congress, nor the courts have proven willing to trigger the War Powers Resolution mechanism. Some Members of Congress contend that the Resolution has proved ineffective and should be amended or repealed. Other Members contend that the Resolution has been effective by increasing legislative-executive communication and congressional leverage.