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Lawmakers Seek Changes in US War Powers Resolution


A group of lawmakers from both parties is proposing to change a law approved by Congress more than three decades ago aimed at limiting the ability of the president to go to war without the approval of Congress. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill, supporters of the effort point to recent statements by the Bush administration about Iran in underscoring their call for changing the 1973 War Powers Act.

In a news conference, lawmakers said their legislative effort, still in its early stages, is designed to establish what they call a clear and sustainable war powers policy for the post September 11 world.

Walter Jones of North Carolina, the sharpest critic among Republicans of President Bush's Iraq policies, says the purpose of their resolution is to ensure that Congress meets its constitutional responsibility of having the sole authority to declare war:

"Congress must be fully informed before sending Americans into harm's way, said Congressman Jones. "Congress must not be a rubber stamp for the executive branch but a check in our system of checks and balances."

Two other Republicans and a Democrat joined Congressman Jones in unveiling a proposal to introduce a resolution to modify the 1973 War Powers Act, approved by Congress during the war in Vietnam.

William Delahunt, a Massachusetts Democrat, says he and the others are driven by the experience of Congress's vote in 2003 giving President Bush authority to invade Iraq:

"What we are saying now is we intend as a Congress, as a legislative body, to recalibrate that legislation," said Delahunt. "Don't think you're going to throw a high, hard one past us now [deceive us]. We have learned [from Iraq]."

Lawmakers would change the existing war powers law to permit a president to initiate short-term military deployments without congressional action but only repel and retaliate for an attack on the United States or U.S. troops, or to protect and evacuate U.S. citizens.

The president would have to submit a detailed report within 48 hours on the justification, scope, duration and estimated costs, as well as an assessment of the impact on U.S. diplomacy, and an assessment of post-hostility scenarios.

The lawmakers would also require the president to convene a special consultative group composed of senior executive officials, and top leaders of the House and Senate.

In presenting the plan, the lawmakers cited recent statements by the Bush administration that they suggest indicate an increased likelihood of military conflict with Iran over its nuclear program and military interference in Iraq.

Ron Paul who is among Republican presidential candidates, says Congress should move now to re-assert its constitutional prerogatives:

"We are about to have another war going on," said Congressman Paul. "And more sanctions placed on Iran today, sanctions blockades boycotts all these things are acts of war so there is an escalation now of the friction now between us and Iran and if we don't have something like this we don't have anything to say about it. We can wake up tomorrow and having something going on in Iran and this war will be spread."

Again, Congressman Jones:

"Congress has to assert itself," he said. "We are no more than neutered with an administration that just makes a decision that, we think this needs to happen for the safety of the world, without any true consultation."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Congress Thursday that the administration will continue to pursue a diplomatic solution to the impasse with Iran over its uranium enrichment program, while reiterating that no options are being taken off the table.

Included in an administration request for $196 billion in emergency funds for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, is $88 million to modify B-2 bombers to deliver what are called Massive Ordinance Penetrator bombs, known as bunker busters.

In speaking in favor of the war powers changes, Republican Wayne Gilchrest says Congress should refuse to provide the money, and expresses concern about what he sees as signs of impending conflict with Iran:

"We ought to be pulling back from our rhetoric against Iran, we should be pulling back from these proposals offering more sanctions on Iran," said Congressman Gilchrest.

The proposed new war powers resolution has not yet been introduced in the House of Representatives, and there is no indication how it will be viewed by Democratic leaders in either the House or Senate.

Congressman Delahunt believes the proposal will attract Republican support, adding that he hopes to convene a hearing on the subject.