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Commission Recommends New US War Powers Act

By Kent Klein
08 July 2008

Two former U.S. Secretaries of State are recommending that the United States change its procedures for deciding to go to war. VOA's Kent Klein reports from Washington.

James Baker and Warren Christopher say a U.S. president should be required by law to consult with Congress before going to war. And they want to require Congress to approve or disapprove the action within 30 days.

Baker was Secretary of State under Republican President George H.W. Bush, and Christopher held the same office under Democratic President Bill Clinton. Together, they led a year-long study by the National War Powers Commission.

Baker says the commission believes the 1973 War Powers Resolution needs to be replaced.

"We think that the rule of law, which is, of course, a centerpiece of American democracy, is undermined and is damaged when the main statute in this vital policy area is regularly questioned or ignored," said James Baker.

The 1973 legislation was a response to the Vietnam War. Baker and Christopher say it is ineffective and unconstitutional. They say no president has ever recognized its constitutionality, Congress has never challenged it, and the Supreme Court has never ruled on it.

The U.S. Constitution designates the president as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, but gives Congress the power to control war funding.

The legislation proposed by Baker and Christopher's commission would require a president to consult with Congress before sending troops into combat for more than a week. It would also create a Joint Congressional Consultation Committee, with members of both houses of Congress. Christopher says this would include Congress in an important decision.

"This statute gives Congress a seat at the table, in deciding whether or not to go to war - not just a seat at the table, but one with a permanent staff, a permanent professional staff, and access to all the available intelligence information," said Warren Christopher.

The commission's proposal would also call for Congress to approve or disapprove any "significant armed conflict" within 30 days.

Baker said the plan is not directed toward any particular conflict in which the U.S. has been involved.

Former Republican Congressman Lee Hamilton, a commission member, says the group hopes the legislation can be passed by Congress and signed by the president next year.

"We think it would be a marvelous piece of legislation for the next president and the next Congress to enact early on, as a signal of bipartisanship in this country, on a national security issue," said Lee Hamilton.

A new opinion poll shows 79 percent of Americans think the president should be required to have approval from Congress before sending troops into combat outside the United States.

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