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Rebalance Constitutional War Powers

Our View

Congress has shied away from its duty to authorize and oversee military action, skewing the constitutional balance of war powers. Leaving war-making decisions entirely to the executive branch puts America in danger of unwisely entering or lingering in conflicts not critical to our national interests with little-to-no oversight or debate. Outdated AUMFs that perpetuate these dangers should be repealed, and the War Powers Resolution of 1973 should be reformed to provide better oversight for the future.

Background

Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution assigns Congress the responsibility of declaring war. After the United States fought several conflicts after World War II without formal declarations of war, Congress passed the War Powers Resolution (WPR) in 1973. The WPR sought to limit the President’s ability to deploy U.S. forces to conflict without Congressional consent. The legislation requires the President to notify Congress within 48 hours of deploying U.S. troops to hostilities and forbids their use for longer than 60 days (allowing 30 additional days to withdraw) unless Congress passes an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) or issues a declaration of war.

In practice, the War Powers Resolution has been flagrantly ignored and its mechanisms have been counterproductive. Interventions in Kosovo, Libya, Syria, and Yemen have overrun or entirely ignored WPR deadlines. When Congress authorized the use of force, such as in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks or in 2002 before the invasion of Iraq, open-ended wording allowed these AUMFs to be used to justify deployments their sponsors never envisioned. For example, though less than a fifth of current members of Congress voted on the 2001 AUMF, it has been invoked at least 19 times for operations in over 41 countries since passage.

Congress Should

Repeal both the 2001 and 2002 Authorizations for Use of Military Force. These AUMFs do not reflect current threats and should not remain a tool future Presidents could use to bypass Congress to enter conflict.

Reassert its Article I oversight powers against unauthorized conflicts. In 2019, a bipartisan Congressional coalition made history by invoking the WPR against unauthorized U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. It should do so again in order to bring this conflict to a close.

Reform the War Powers Resolution with stronger oversight requirements for future AUMFs:

Congress Should Not

Pass “blank-check” AUMFs. Previous attempts to replace the 2001 AUMF sought to pass what amounted to a one-time, open-ended authorization for future uses of force. To ensure that we fight only when necessary, Congress must take responsibility for its ongoing oversight duty that our Founders intended.

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