IT IS 60 days since President Bush sent forces to confront Iraq in a context where war could have broken out at any minute, and can still. Had he reported his decision to Congress under the War Powers Resolution, as any literal reading of the law compelled him to do, then he would now be removing those forces, since Congress has not given the positive consent that the law requires to keep them in place. To realize that, theoretically, withdrawal could have been forced over presidential protest and without even a congressional vote is to understand the fatal flaw of the War Powers Resolution. It substitutes a parliamentary device for a political decision. No wonder presidents resist its reach. No wonder Congress shies from the reaching.
The fact remains that the resolution is the law of the land. Not only does it express the fundamental constitutional principle that the decision to go to war must be a collective one. It also inscribes congressional prerogatives that Congress may be loath to enforce -- especially when that means either second-guessing a popular presidential initiative or, equally undesireable, writing the White House a blank check.
How, then, can these political pushes and pulls best be resolved?
President Bush's answer is to ask for (and receive) broad congressional approval for what he has done so far and to solicit support for whatis to come by consulting key legislators informally. That way he avoids being drawn into the magnetic field of the War Powers Resolution, maximizes the support he has got and minimizes the chances for resistance to his policy todevelop.
This makes sense for a president in a crisis, but of course, War Powers or no, it leaves Congress pliable and passive and out in the policy cold. The problem is only aggravated when you recall that in the long recess Congress is about to begin, war in the Persian Gulf could come about. This is what has led some of the Senate's frustrated veterans of War Powers reform efforts to propose the quick formation, by joint resolution or simple leadership agreement, of a bipartisan leadership group of both houses to be available for consultation while Congress is out of session. It seems to us a reasonable way to serve both policy and politics and to do so without the clutter of constitutional confrontation. The budget crisis should not keep Congress from following up this good idea.