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US Senate Postpones Libya Vote

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington (file photo)
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington (file photo)
Michael Bowman

The U.S. Senate has postponed voting on a resolution authorizing limited American military involvement in Libya. The move came amid Republican insistence that the chamber focus on a more pressing need: the nation’s impending debt crisis.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid cut short what was supposed to be a weeklong recess this week, forcing lawmakers to return to Washington one day after the U.S. Independence Day holiday. Reid said the lengthy recess could not be justified while negotiations remain deadlocked on raising the federal borrowing limit and averting a possible default on America’s $14 trillion national debt.

But the first item of business scheduled by the Democratic majority leader Tuesday was a procedural vote on continued U.S. participation in the NATO-led campaign over Libya.

Republicans strongly objected. Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama. “Regardless of how one feels about the Libya resolution, that is not what we need to be doing this week. The president [Barack Obama] has not asked for the Libya resolution. It is not something he cares about, apparently. I will tell you one thing we have to do. We have got to fulfill our responsibility in Congress as the people who control the purse [federal spending]," he said.

A fellow-Republican, Bob Corker of Tennessee, noted that the House of Representatives already voted against authorizing the Libya mission, making Senate action, as he put it, “totally irrelevant”. Corker urged the Senate to focus on America’s debt situation instead. “We are here over the fact that we have huge deficits, and we do not have an agreement to deal with that," he said.

Moments later, Majority Leader Reid canceled the vote on whether to proceed to the Libya resolution. “I’ve spoken with the Republican [minority] leader [Mitch McConnell], and we have agreed, not withstanding the broad support for the Libya resolution, the most important thing for us to focus on this week is the budget," he said.

The resolution would authorize a supporting military role for the United States in Libya for up to a year. It specifies that no U.S. ground forces will be deployed, and that the United States will not bear reconstruction costs in a post-Moammar Gadhafi Libya. The Obama administration has argued that no congressional authorization of the mission is required, but said it would welcome a statement of support from Capitol Hill.

The resolution has been championed by the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry, and the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, John McCain. McCain acknowledged the importance of confronting America’s debt situation, but said Libya merits attention, as well. “The Senate does need to have a debate about United States policy and military action in Libya. Whether my colleagues are supportive of what we are doing in Libya or not I think is an issue that needs to be debated on the floor of the Senate," he said.

McCain said congressional upheaval over the Libya resolution could have been avoided if President Barack Obama had sought congressional authorization for the mission months ago.

The resolution would have needed the backing of 60 senators in the 100-member chamber to proceed to a final vote. For now, a vote appears unlikely to be rescheduled before the August 2 deadline for increasing the federal borrowing limit.

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