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States Battle to Recover Royalties for Energy Production on Public Lands

Western governors won a rare — though potentially short-lived — victory last month when the Interior Department reversed plans to withhold roughly $100 million in fiscal 2013 royalty payments to states for oil, gas and coal produced on federal lands within their borders.

To the dismay of state governments, the Interior Department had said it would withhold roughly 5 percent of the royalties owed under the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 (PL 66-146) to comply with across-the-board spending reductions under the sequester. They were relieved when the department relented, after concluding as part of a legal review urged by the states that mineral payments qualified under a 1985 budget law that allows certain sequestered funds to be withheld initially, then disbursed in subsequent fiscal years.

But the decision doesn’t mean the states will see the cash anytime soon. The funds will not be restored until after the new fiscal year begins next month. And even then, fiscal 2014 royalty payments will be subject to the sequester — meaning the Interior Department will withhold 5 percent in fiscal 2014 only to return the funds after the next fiscal year starts.

Further complicating matters is how those funds will be disbursed. While Interior’s Office of Natural Resources Revenue told states it would “work expeditiously” to disburse the sequestered payments in the new fiscal year, spokesman Patrick Etchart said last week that such payments may require congressional approval.

Read More on Roll Call: States Battle to Recover Royalties for Energy Production on Public Lands

Rogers Introduces ‘Clean’ CR Text

Right on schedule, House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., introduced a “clean” short-term continuing resolution on Tuesday evening, setting up floor consideration for later this week.

“The bill does not include new or controversial riders, or changes in existing federal policy,” according to a summary of the legislation. Indeed, aside from some small revisions to allow continued functionality of and flexibility within certain agencies, the stopgap spending measure to float the government from the end of this month through Dec. 15 is altogether “clean.”

It does, however, hold funding levels at $986.3 billion, which is slightly below the current sequester-era top line of $988 billion. Democrats have signaled they are likely to vote against any CR set to those levels, calling instead for a full replacement of the sequester or at least revisions to bring parity between defense and domestic spending cuts.

“Our country desperately needs a long-term budget solution that ends the draconian cuts put into place by sequestration, and that provides for a responsible, sustainable, and attainable federal budget,” said Rogers, who last month unleashed a scathing indictment of the sequester and its harmful effect on the ability to pass standalone appropriations measures through the House. “It is my hope that this stopgap legislation will provide time for all sides to come together to reach this essential goal.”

Read More on Roll Call: Rogers Introduces ‘Clean’ CR Text

Congress Not Moved by Obama’s Measured Case for Syria Strike

In a high-stakes address to the nation Tuesday night, President Barack Obama cautiously embraced a diplomatic effort to rid the Syrian regime of its chemical weapons, but urged the nation to stand with him in his resolve to launch a military strike if that effort fails.

The president said he asked Congress to hold off on voting to authorize strikes to give the diplomatic effort a chance to work, but indicated he was willing to act if it does not. Though it’s an open question whether he was able to sway public sentiment on the issue of a strike, many members of Congress did not appear to be moved by his pitch that the Syrian chemical attacks were not just an affront to humanity but could also lead to future security risks to the United States.

“Our ideals and principles as well as our national security are at stake in Syria, along with our leadership of a world where we seek to ensure that the world’s worst weapons will never be used,” he said.

“America is not the world’s policeman,” he said, noting concerns from Americans to that effect. “But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death, and thereby make our own children safer in the long run, I believe we should act. That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes America exceptional.”

Obama told the nation that there was no doubt the Syrian regime gruesomely massacred its own citizens, and asked the country to view the hundreds of videos and pictures of the dead and dying.

Read More on Roll Call: Congress Not Moved by Obama’s Measured Case for Syria Strike

Durbin, Vitter Praise USDA Action Against Online Puppy Mills

Sens. Richard J. Durbin and David Vitter aren’t usually kindred spirits, but they’ve found common cause against puppy mills.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Illinois Democrat and Louisiana Republican praised publication of a final rule from the Agriculture Department that subjects operators of puppy mills selling animals online to new regulations.

“Too often, the media reports stories about dogs rescued from substandard facilities — where puppies are housed in stacked wire cages and routinely denied access to veterinary care. Unfortunately, online dog sales have contributed to the rise of these sad cases” Durbin said in a statement. “Today’s announcement by the USDA brings much needed oversight to the previously unregulated business of online breeders and puppy mills.”

Read More on Roll Call: Durbin, Vitter Praise USDA Action Against Online Puppy Mills

Hawaii Legislature to Hold Special Session on Same-Sex Marriage

Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D) has called a special session of the state’s legislature, reports StateTrack research Connor O’Brien. During the session, which convenes Oct. 28, the legislature will consider as bill to legalize same-sex marriage. Citing a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that invalidated a ban on federal benefits for same-sex couples, Abercrombie said the legislation would ensure that Hawaii’s laws provide marriage benefits to all couples regardless of sexual orientation. Hawaii law currently allows for civil unions between same-sex couples.  To view the Governor’s Proclamation, please click here.

Obama Expects Syria Vote Delays

President Barack Obama said Monday that Congress may have more time to consider a strike in Syria, given that country’s apparent newfound willingness to give up its chemical weapons.

“I don’t anticipate that you would see a succession of votes this week or anytime in the immediate future,” Obama told ABC News. “So I think there will be time during the course of the debates here in the United States for the international community, the Russians and the Syrians to work with us and say, ‘Is there a way to resolve this?’”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced Monday that he would hold off on scheduling a test vote on a use-of-force resolution in order to give the president more time to make his case to the country and to lawmakers.

The outcome of a Congressional vote remains uncertain at best, and even Obama declined to predict a win.

“I wouldn’t say I’m confident,” Obama told NBC News in one of six network interviews he gave as he tries to rally the country. The interviews aired Monday evening and come amid dismal polling for another military action.

Read More on Roll Call: Obama Expects Syria Vote Delays

Can Republicans and Democrats Avoid a Shutdown?

Top Republicans and Democrats are hoping to find a way out of a shutdown showdown this month, with the likeliest scenario a short-term bill that funds the government at this year’s levels and leaves Obamacare unscathed.

Though the question of whether to strike Syria is dominating news organizations’ and lawmakers’ attention, Congress also has to race against the clock to agree to a spending bill that keeps the government open past Sept. 30.

What Republicans can pass as soon as this week will depend on whether their members will demand stricter Obamacare defunding language or additional spending cuts beyond the $988 billion GOP leaders are planning.

Republican leaders have hinted at their preference for a no-drama bill that would keep the government open while talks continue on a broader budget deal that may or may not include a debt limit increase. A GOP leadership aide outlined Monday a way for House Republicans to use a legislative maneuver that would allow Republicans to vote to defund Obamacare but let the Senate strip out the Obamacare language.

One Senate Democratic aide told CQ Roll Call that a clean, short-term continuing resolution at this year’s $988 billion level would likely get through the Senate, but the White House has yet to weigh in.

Read More on Roll Call: Can Republicans and Democrats Avoid a Shutdown?

Nutrition Measure Likely on House Floor Next Week as Farm Bill Struggle Continues

Sept. 9, 2013 – 6:44 p.m.

By Ellyn Ferguson, CQ Roll Call

The Senate Agriculture chairwoman and the Obama administration on Monday reaffirmed their opposition to an extension of the 2008 farm bill, saying it would take the pressure off Congress to finish a new five-year farm bill.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., backed Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., in her call for the House to name farm bill conferees soon rather than wait until Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., brings a revised nutrition title to the floor for a vote. However, a Cantor aide said it is likely the nutrition bill could come to the floor next week. The issue is expected to be discussed at the GOP conference meeting Tuesday. No final decision has been made, the aide said.

As outlined, the House nutrition measure would reduce the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, by $40 billion over 10 years. The Senate bill (S 954) proposed $4 billion in reductions over the next decade.

Reid and Stabenow made their pitch for continued pressure on the House in an appearance at a National Farmers Union press conference.

“The farm bill is so very important,” Reid said. “It creates jobs and it is the way we feed ourselves. I hope if you support the American farmer, the American people, that you’ll do what you can to weigh in with the House. They have got to allow us to pass this bill.”

Reid and Stabenow touted the Senate farm bill (S 954) as the measure that conferees could build on to produce a final version.

“Let’s go get them and pass a farm bill,” Stabenow told a crowd of about 200 people at the outdoor event. Singer Neil Young accounted for part of the draw, speaking in support of the federal renewable fuel standard and ethanol production as well for passage of a 2013 farm bill.

Earlier in the day, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told National Farmers Union members that an extension would reward congressional failure to act on a “huge bill” that sets policy for everything from crop production to rural development to soil and water conservation and agricultural exports. Exports post surpluses as opposed to the overall U.S. trade deficit.

“It’s been 10 months since we were told, ‘Give us an extension of the existing programs, some of them, and we’ll get this done after the (presidential) election,’” Vilsack said. “It hasn’t gotten done from January now into September. You do have to begin questioning whether or not this is a priority and it ought to be a priority.”

The House passed an agriculture-only farm bill (HR 2642) in July but further movement is tied to Cantor’s timetable for putting the revised nutrition bill up for a vote. Cantor removed the title from a House Agriculture Committee-passed bill (HR 1947) after the measure failed on the House floor.

Last week, Cantor indicated in a legislative memo that the nutrition bill was on his fall agenda. Cantor also said the revised nutrition bill would retain provisions and incentives by Rep. Steve Southerland II, R-Fla., to encourage states to require all able-bodied parents with children older than 6 to work or be in work-related activities. He also said the bill would end waivers that allow states to exempt single able-bodied adults without children from time limits for food aid.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which Cantor sees as a leading opponent to the proposal, estimates that 4 million to 6 million people could lose benefits. SNAP provides aid to nearly 47 million people each month.

Daniel Newhauser contributed to this story.


Source: CQ News
Round-the-clock coverage of news from Capitol Hill.
© 2013 CQ Roll Call All Rights Reserved.

Congress May Be Headed for a Split Verdict on Syria

Would a Senate endorsement alone give President Barack Obama sufficient political backing to launch a missile strike on Syria?

With flimsy support in the House, the Senate may be the best chance Obama has to get the thumbs-up from Congress that he’s looking for — though by no means is a favorable result in the Senate a slam dunk.

The president himself refused to say what he would do if Congress split or refused to authorize the use of force against Syria.

At a Friday news conference from the G-20 summit in Russia, Obama said he did not want to “jump the gun and speculate, because right now, I’m working to get as much support as possible.”

However, White House Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken told NPR on Friday morning that the president would likely not act without Congress’ approval.

Read More on Roll Call: Congress May Be Headed for a Split Verdict on Syria

Cantor Insists on Budget ‘Reforms’ in Return for Debt Hike

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., outlined a plan Friday to hold federal spending and the debt limit hostage — but not necessarily over Obamacare.

“House Republicans will demand fiscal reforms and pro-growth policies which put us on a path to balance in ten years in exchange for another increase in the debt limit,” Cantor wrote in a memo to GOP lawmakers.

With President Barack Obama vowing not to negotiate, the United States faces a default crisis a little over a month after lawmakers return.

Cantor’s threat has a somewhat different standard than the demand from Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, that any increase in the debt ceiling be accompanied by an equivalent amount of “cuts and reforms.” Boehner’s demand, known as the “Boehner rule,” was violated earlier this year when the House punted on the debt limit, but the speaker recently promised a “whale of a fight” this fall.

Cantor also said Republicans would demand Obama agree to keep the sequester in place past Sept. 30 — and slash $64 billion from the levels Obama signed months ago.

Read More on Roll Call: Cantor Insists on Budget ‘Reforms’ in Return for Debt Hike

Fallout From Previous War Resolutions Hangs Over Syria Debate

Posted on CQ.com on Sept. 5, 2013 – 2:06 p.m.

By Megan Scully, CQ Roll Call

Looming large over the congressional debate to authorize the use of force in Syria are votes taken more than a decade ago to launch operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As lawmakers sit through classified briefings and public hearings, they are at once skeptical of the administration’s case to strike following the Assad regime’s Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack outside of Syria and wary that the United States could be dragged into another prolonged war.

After a decade of war, members on both sides of the aisle remain unconvinced that a Syria strike is in the national security interests of the United States. They question the U.S. military objective, the country’s ability to keep the operation a limited one and the affordability of even a small strike.

It seems fitting, then, that two of the Obama administration’s point men on Syria — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry — took those votes to authorize force in Iraq and Afghanistan alongside their Senate colleagues many years ago.

Both men, veterans of the Vietnam War, voted to authorize operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The Iraq vote in 2002, in particular, hangs over them as they press the case for a strike in Syria on Capitol Hill.

“Both of us are especially sensitive to never again asking any member of Congress to vote on faulty intelligence,” Kerry told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday.

Some lawmakers who voted against the authorization to use force in Iraq (PL 107-243), including Sen. Barbara Boxer, have stressed that attempting to draw parallels between that war and the proposed strike in Syria is a false comparison.

“In Iraq, the Bush administration prepared to invade and occupy a country with well over 100,000 troops,” Boxer said at Tuesday’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing. “In this case, the president’s been clear. No ground invasion, no occupation.”

The California Democrat ultimately voted to support the authorization during the panel’s markup Wednesday. But others, like Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., who voted against the Iraq authorization as a House member, are unconvinced by the administration’s case for a quick strike against Assad.

“Many who voted for it [the Iraq war] came to regret that vote,” Udall said during Tuesday’s hearing. “Americans are understandably weary after the fiasco of Iraq and after more than a decade of war, how can our administration make a guarantee that our military actions will be limited? How can we guarantee that one surgical strike will have any impact other than to tighten the vise grip Assad has on his power?”

During the Senate markup, Udall offered an amendment that would have sharply limited the scope of the operation. The panel soundly defeated Udall’s language and he later voted against the authorization.

Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., also opposed the Iraq war but has said he supports striking in Syria despite a lack of strong public support for the operation.

“Public opinion was very much in favor of going into Iraq. I voted not to go into Iraq. I thought it was a mistake,” Levin told reporters on Wednesday after a lengthy classified briefing. “The phones were ringing off the hook after President Bush’s speeches about going into Iraq. If I had followed public opinion then, I would have voted to go into Iraq. But in my judgment at that tie, it was a mistake.”

Each senator, Levin added, is ultimately going to have to decide for themselves whether striking in Syria is in America’s security interests.

“It may or may not be popular at the moment, but each of us, I believe, will make an effort to the best of our ability make that judgment,” he said.

After September 11
Even the war in Afghanistan, which received nearly unanimous support on Capitol Hill and across the country in the days following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, is playing into the debate on Syria.

Democratic Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois said on Tuesday he didn’t understand then the wide-ranging effects of the authorization for force (PL 107-40) after those attacks, given that it has been cited by two administrations as permitting drone strikes and other counterterrorism operations in a number of countries.

“I still believe that was the right thing to do,” Durbin said of his vote to authorize the Afghanistan war. “But I didn’t know at the time that I voted for that authorization for the use of military force I was voting for the longest war in the history of the United States and an authority to several presidents to do things that no one could have envisioned at that moment in history.”

During Wednesday’s markup, Durbin, who ultimately supported the resolution, worked to make the language in the authorization as specific as possible to avoid another broad-sweeping declaration of war.

“I think that what we’ve done today is a step in the right direction,” he said. “I hope that it makes it a safer world.”

Earlier Syria Vote
But the Iraq and Afghanistan votes may not be the only ones factoring into lawmakers’ decisions on Syria.

In 2003, both chambers of Congress widely supported the Syria Accountability Act (PL 108-175), which gave the president a choice of sanctions aimed at, among other things, forcing Syria to abandon its support of terrorism and its suspected possession of chemical weapons.

The bill states that Syria’s acquisition of weapons of mass destruction threatens the security interests of the Middle East and the national security interests of the United States — a statement that administration officials and others in support of a strike have used to buttress their arguments that doing so is in the country’s best interest.

“Not all of us were here 10 years ago when that vote was taken,” Levin said. “But many of us were here and I think that that will also be something that people will look back to as a reminder of how seriously we took it that Syria might even get possession of — much less use — chemical weapons.”

Of course, there have also been times when Congress has debated war authorizations without clearing them, only to have an administration move ahead anyway, effectively eroding the 1973 War Powers Resolution (PL 93-148).

In 1999, the House narrowly rejected — in a 213-213 vote — a Senate-passed measure that would have authorized U.S. participation in NATO airstrikes. The Clinton administration proceeded with the operation, and Congress ended up appropriating funds for the mission.

At the time, lawmakers criticized the floor debate for being overly politicized and not terribly substantive.

“All we’re doing in all of these resolutions today is sending messages,” House Appropriations Foreign Operations Subcommittee Chairman Sonny Callahan, R-Ala., said during the debate.

In 2011, the House debated — and was unable to pass — resolutions that would have authorized or blocked U.S. involvement in enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya, holding votes several weeks after the United States had joined the operation. The Senate never held a vote.


Source: CQ News
Round-the-clock coverage of news from Capitol Hill.
© 2013 CQ Roll Call All Rights Reserved.

Cable Television: Keeping it Competitive, Affordable and Accessible

Time Warner Cable and broadcast giant CBS settled their high profile contract dust up just in time for the start of the lucrative NFL football season. Time Warner consumers in major markets were without CBS programming for almost a month as their lawyers fought about the tariffs that providers pay to networks for the rights to broadcast to individual subscribers. This can range from pennies per subscriber for many smaller channels to upwards of $4 for the popular sports programming network ESPN. CBS reportedly settled for a tariff with Time Warner that doubles the rate from $1 to $2.

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Senate’s Syria Resolution Sets Time Limits, Won’t Authorize Ground Troops

Senate Foreign Relations Committee leaders have reached an agreement on the language for the resolution authorizing the use of force against Syria for up to 90 days — but with no “boots on the ground.”

“Sharing President Obama’s view that our nation is best served when we come together as one, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has crafted a bipartisan Authorization for the Use of Military Force that we believe reflects the will and concerns of Democrats and Republicans alike,” Chairman Robert Menendez said Tuesday in a statement. “Together we have pursued a course of action that gives the President the authority he needs to deploy force in response to the Assad regime’s criminal use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people, while assuring that the authorization is narrow and focused, limited in time, and assures that the Armed Forces of the United States will not be deployed for combat operations in Syria.”

The New Jersey Democrat scheduled a markup for Wednesday. Earlier Tuesday, Menendez noted that the new resolution would not permit American boots on the ground.

As drafted, the language worked out between Menendez and ranking member Bob Corker, R-Tenn., would authorize the use of force for 60 days, with provisions making it possible that the authorization would be extended for 30 days after that, according to Senate sources.

While the Senate has authorization language to debate, that’s not yet the case in the House.

Read More on Roll Call: Senate’s Syria Resolution Sets Time Limits, Won’t Authorize Ground Troops

On Syria, McConnell Remains Lone Hill Leader on the Fence

Only one of the top five members of the bipartisan congressional hierarchy still sits on the fence about launching a punitive strike against Syria: Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader.

The Kentucky Republican emerged from the White House on Monday as the only member of the bicameral leadership group still uncommitted to voting in favor of legislation authorizing military action.

McConnell looks to be taking as much time as he can. He’s weighing his political considerations back home, where an isolationist stance would provide clear short-term benefit, against the pressures of his leadership role at the Capitol, where he’s spent almost three decades as a Republican voice for a hawkish defense posture and an interventionist foreign policy.

The senator was one of the group of a dozen Hill leaders who spent an hour in the Cabinet Room hearing President Barack Obama and his aides lay out their case for why Congress should endorse plans for missile strikes, the president’s proposed response to last month’s chemical weapons attack outside Damascus. The attacks killed more than 1,000 people and, the administration says, was surely the work of Bashar al-Assad’s embattled regime.

Read More on Roll Call: On Syria, McConnell Remains Lone Hill Leader on the Fence

Are There Really Fewer Competitive House Districts Than Ever Before?

According to conventional wisdom, there are fewer competitive House races than ever before thanks to partisan gerrymandering. But a closer look at the past 10 elections shows that the 2014 batch of races isn’t far from other non-wave cycles.

There are currently 49 House seats rated as competitive by the Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call. That is down from the 68 seats rated as competitive prior to the 2012 elections and less than half of the 109 competitive seats in 2010.

But it is closer to the three elections that began the previous decade, when there wasn’t a national wave. In 2000 and 2002, 54 races were rated as competitive. In 2004, at the same point in the redistricting cycle as this year’s races, there were just 38 competitive seats.

But in 2006 and 2008, more than 60 races were listed as competitive even though the district lines hadn’t changed (except in a couple states that went through mid-decade redistricting). That means that while partisan redistricting factors into the relative small number of competitive districts, the national mood is a big factor in determining the size of the House playing field.

Democrats gained more than 50 seats total in the 2006 and 2008 elections in a repudiation of President George W. Bush. In 2010, the House playing field ballooned to 109 seats and Republicans gained 63 seats in response to President Barack Obama’s first years in office.

Read More on Roll Call: Are There Really Fewer Competitive House Districts Than Ever Before?

House Members Get Syria Debate Started

Though they are not due to officially convene until next week, House lawmakers sent clear signals on Labor Day that they were ready to return to work.

In the morning, 127 House Democrats tuned into a conference call with Secretary of State John Kerry and White House officials to be briefed on the evolving situation in Syria and the need for U.S. intervention there.

On Tuesday, House chairmen and ranking members on the committees of jurisdiction will meet at the White House to discuss next steps along with their Senate counterparts.

Sources confirm that House leaders are also expected to attend that meeting, including Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md.

Read More on Roll Call: House Members Get Syria Debate Started

Voting Against Obama on Syria Would Be ‘Catastrophic,’ McCain Warns

Two senior Republican senators emerged from a meeting with President Barack Obama on Monday warning that a vote against striking Syria would be disastrous.

“A rejection, a vote against that resolution by Congress, I think would be catastrophic because it would undermine the credibility of the United States and the president,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told reporters outside the White House. He added that it would be difficult for Obama to decide to use force without receiving the blessing of Congress.

“If we lost a vote in the Congress dealing with the chemical weapons being used in Syria, what effect would that have on Iran?” asked Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

McCain and Graham were invited to the White House on Labor Day to discuss what it would take for them to help convince other lawmakers to support a military action. So far, most members of Congress have expressed doubts about the need to intervene in Syria’s civil war — even if government forces used deadly sarin gas against their own people, as the U.S. and other countries have alleged.

While both McCain and Graham support intervention, the senators said they need to be convinced that Obama has a long-term strategic plan for addressing the crisis in Syria.

Both senators have said that Obama should have acted sooner and should have done a better job of communicating the threat that inaction in Syria poses to the international community. And they said they are concerned that the president has now put forth a draft resolution that is too limited to be effective in the long term.

Read More on Roll Call: Voting Against Obama on Syria Would Be ‘Catastrophic,’ McCain Warns

Will Congress Follow Its Leaders On Syria?

President Barack Obama and congressional leaders face a daunting task convincing skeptical lawmakers to back a war against Syria.

Obama’s surprising announcement Saturday that he would go to Congress for a use-of-force authorization put top leaders on the spot — none more so than Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, who is inclined to back the president but leads a fractured House deeply dubious of the president.

“The speaker hopes to be able to support the commander in chief,” a Boehner aide told CQ Roll Call. “That will just require the president to provide answers and make the case to the American people.”

That includes detailed answers to the many thorny questions Boehner posed to the president last week — like what, exactly, a strike will accomplish and what contingency plans the administration has if the conflict spreads.

Read More on Roll Call: Will Congress Follow Its Leaders On Syria?

Decision to Ask Congress to Authorize Syria Attack Rejuvenates Legislative Role in War

By Jonathan Broder, CQ Roll Call

President Barack Obama’s decision to seek congressional authorization in advance of a limited military strike against Syria could set a precedent that gives Congress greater war powers and makes it far more difficult for future presidents to act on their own, legal experts say. Such a precedent could even result in less muscular U.S. foreign policies and a lower American profile in the world.

Ever since the end of the Vietnam War in 1973, successive American presidents have regarded congressional restraints on the executive’s war powers — such as the War Powers Resolution of that year (PL 93-148) — as unconstitutional or, at best, purely advisory, freeing them to launch numerous minor military operations across the globe without advance congressional approval.

In cases where lawmakers have sued the executive for overstepping its powers, the Supreme Court has always declined to rule, calling on the two branches to iron out their differences.

In the case of major military engagements, however, such as the 1991 Persian Gulf war and the 2003 Iraq war, presidents have sought and secured congressional authorizations to use force, but for political — not constitutional — reasons. But when Obama launched a no-fly zone over Libya in 2011, he did not ask for advance authorization from Congress, nor was Congress able to muster enough agreement to weigh in one way or the other.

Obama also maintains he does not need congressional authorization to strike Syria in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack.

“The president knows he has the power to do this, but he is empowering the Congress to empower the nation through the decision that we make together,” Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday on CNN.

But the fact that Obama wants the legislature’s nod for the limited use of force against Syria may mark a watershed in the modern history of war powers, said Peter Spiro, a professor of constitutional and national security and Temple University law School.

“This sets a precedent that will be difficult to walk back from,” he wrote in an email. “This could shift the balance in Congress’ favor. Future presidents will have a tougher time going it alone.”

Isolated at Home and Abroad
Politically, Obama’s move appears to be an attempt to break out of the isolation he’s been facing both domestically and internationally ever since his administration began signalling that a U.S. attack on Syria was imminent.

From their home states and districts, a chorus of both Republicans and Democrats had been demanding the president recall Congress from its August recess to get authorization for a military strike, which many lawmakers regard as having little military value in the first place. Meanwhile, opinion polls show a war-weary American public opposed to another military operation in the Middle East.

Internationally, Russia, one of Syria’s principal backers and a veto-wielding member of the United Nations Security Council, opposes any U.N. resolution that would sanction an attack.

Obama suffered perhaps his greatest blow last week when Britain, normally a reliable partner in U.S. military operations, backed away following the surprise defeat of an attack-related government resolution in the British parliament.

While lawmakers applauded Obama’s move as an acknowledgement of the role Congress should play in matters of war, the administration can expect to encounter a flood of questions and criticism over how the president’s proposed strike fits into his overall policy toward Syria, now in the third year of a civil war that has killed at least 100,000 people.

Two Senate committees — Foreign Relations and Armed Services — are scheduled to return early from the congressional recess to begin their debate over an administration draft of an authorization measure on Tuesday.

“The Administration’s Syria policy has been incoherent, and there are many unanswered questions, so I welcome the President’s decision to seek congressional authorization for any use of military force and look forward to a vigorous debate on this critical issue.,” California Republican Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Saturday in a written statement.

Big Gamble
Some conservative legal experts say Obama would have been better off not seeking congressional authorization and attacking Syria using his executive powers.

“He’s got no political capital, he’s got no good will on the Hill, and he’s provided no rationale for this concept at all,” says David Rivkin, a former Justice Department and White House official in the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. “This is the first time I can remember in American history when it’s a bad idea to go to Congress.”

It is impossible to know at this point if Obama will win a vote authorizing force against Syria.

“The President is taking a big risk here,” Jack L. Goldsmith, a former Justice Department official in the George W. Bush administration, wrote on the popular legal blog, Lawfare.com. “But he will be incomparably strengthened, legally and especially politically, if he is able to win congressional support. And in any event his request for support from Congress will force every member to be accountable, one way or the other, for what he does.”

But legal experts agree that a loss would weaken both Obama and the presidency’s historic monopoly on war-making authority, shifting the balance of power to Congress.

“A loss could set a precedent in which future presidents always have to ask for a resolution for any kind of military action,” said Stephen Griffin, a constitutional law professor and expert on war powers at Tulane University. “I think there’s a danger there of making it more likely that Congress will feel its oats and demand such resolutions in the future.”

Griffin says Republican defense hawks, who traditionally have favored broad presidential war powers, are not going be pleased with such a development. “But that’s hard to articulate now because so many House Republicans are either determined to humiliate Obama or they’re genuinely war-weary,” he said.

He noted that hawkish lawmakers such as Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina — both of whom have suggested they will oppose Obama’s proposed Syria resolution because it doesn’t go far enough — may find their preference for a strong executive swept away if Obama loses the authorization vote.

Short-Term Gain, Long-Term Problems
On the other hand, some legal experts regard Obama’s abrupt decision to seek congressional authorization for a limited attack on Syria as a short-term political masterstroke, even if he loses the vote.

Kal Raustiala, a law professor at UCLA and director of the school’s Burkle Center for International Relations, said the president could get political cover and possibly a face-saving out of the Syria crisis if Congress votes against authorizing force. Just as British Prime Minister David Cameron bowed to the will of parliament, Obama could do the same, he said.

Moreover, added Griffin, “a no vote protects him from any further charges that we should intervene if Assad keeps doing even worse things.”

That may provide Obama with some respite from the Syria crisis as he leaves on Tuesday for a G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, and as his administration and Congress gear up for battles this fall over the debt ceiling, federal spending, and immigration.

But in places like the Middle East and beyond, Obama and his successors can expect Congress to demand more say in war-related decisions.

“If Presidents have to worry about getting congressional approval for the use of force, it presents another possible brake point,” Spiro wrote in an email. “There are many balls in the air in a situations like this one; a requirement of congressional approval adds a big one. To the extent that congressional approval is a question mark in any particular situation, it adds to the “no” column in deciding whether to use force.”

He added, “In the past, presidents have had to worry about a lot of things when it comes to limited uses of force, but this hasn’t been one of them. This will lower the odds of US intervention in many situations.”

Source: CQ News
Round-the-clock coverage of news from Capitol Hill.
© 2013 CQ Roll Call All Rights Reserved.

Tell Your Organization’s Story Through Facebook’s New Shared Photo Albums

Earlier this week Facebook unveiled “Shared Photo Albums,” new functionality that allows multiple users to contribute to the same album. While the immediate applications show real promise – imagine creating a wedding album and inviting friends and family to upload photos that they’ve taken – the advocacy play looks just as promising.

Specifically, what if we could harness the power of social photo sharing to tell your organization’s story, bringing together the visual power of your groups’ stakeholders to show the real effect of specific rules and/or regulations?

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