Senate, House head toward split over Libya campaign

McClatchy NewspapersJune 21, 2011 

WASHINGTON — Key senators on Tuesday urged giving the White House authority for a one-year, limited Libya mission, but sentiment was growing in the House of Representatives to cut off the effort's funding.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., who proposed the one-year measure, argued that not supporting efforts such as those of the Libyan rebels would "be ignorant, irresponsible and shortsighted and dangerous for our country."

He and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., President Barack Obama's 2008 Republican opponent, are pushing a measure that would authorize the use of U.S. armed forces "to advance national security interests in Libya as part of the international coalition" that's involved in that country.

And, the resolution says, "Congress does not support deploying, establishing or maintaining the presence of units and members of the United States Armed Forces on the ground in Libya unless the purpose of the presence is limited to the immediate personal defense of United States Government officials…or to rescuing members of NATO forces from imminent danger."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the Senate probably could pass the measure, though he offered no timetable.

But in the House, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., had a different view.

"Our members are frustrated over the president's action, his lack of positing a clear vision and mission," he said. Discussions were under way on possible House action, including denying funds for the operation as part of a defense-spending bill that's expected to be considered beginning Thursday.

The White House has said the U.S. has spent $716 million through June 3 on the Libya campaign, and it estimates the mission will cost $1.1 billion by Sept. 30. The funds are expected to come from already appropriated money.

The congressional division over Libya contrasted with the polite Senate debate Tuesday over Libya and the war in Afghanistan, just before voting 100-0 to confirm Leon Panetta, a former California congressman, budget director and White House chief of staff under Bill Clinton and Central Intelligence Agency director under Obama, as secretary of defense.

In another development Tuesday, the Treasury Department took new steps to isolate the Libyan regime and provide incentives for its members to pitch down.

Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control imposed blocking requirements on three additional Libyan banks on the grounds that they helped move money for another financial institution _ the Libyan Arab Foreign Bank _ that had been subject to sanctions since Feb. 25.

The three new banks affected are the Arab Turkish Bank, the North Africa International Bank and the North Africa Commercial Bank.

The agency also lifted sanctions Tuesday against Shukri Mohammed Ghanem, a former Libyan oil minister and former chairman of the state-owned National Oil Corp. of Libya. His defection in May was a blow to the regime, and the Obama administration hopes that lifting sanctions against him will encourage others to follow suit.

“Our sanctions are intended to prevent harm and change behavior,” Adam Szubin, the director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control, said in a statement announcing the actions. “To the extent that sanctioned individuals distance themselves from the Gadhafi regime, these measures can be lifted.”

Adding to the confusion in Libya, NATO commanders confirmed Monday that an errant airstrike had killed innocent civilians west of Tripoli. Reports suggested that nine to 15 civilians were killed. On Tuesday, a NATO spokesman acknowledged that a helicopter drone had crashed, although it wasn't clear whether mechanical failure or hostile fire was to blame.

The reports add to congressional unease, which has been building since the U.S. joined NATO forces three months ago to try to oust Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

The White House argued last week that it didn't need Congress' authorization, since no American lives were at risk. The 1973 War Powers Resolution requires the president to get congressional approval within 60 days after hostilities begin, extendable to 90 if the president certifies military necessity in writing.

Kerry supported the White House line, saying, "The fact is that just because hostilities are taking place and we are supporting people engaged in those hostilities does not mean that we are ourselves, in fact, introducing troops into hostilities."

Cantor wasn't buying that argument.

"Turn on the TV and see bunkers being blown up. That would indicate hostilities," he said.

Outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates has added fuel to that view. "The way I like to put it is, from our standpoint at the Pentagon, we’re involved in a limited kinetic operation," he told Fox News this week. "If I’m in Gadhafi’s palace, I suspect I think I’m at war.”

(Daniel Lippman contributed to this article.)

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