The House Foreign Affairs Committee late yesterday unanimously approved a resolution supporting President Bush's actions in the Persian Gulf crisis after haggling for two days over the wording.
The purpose of the resolution is to show "broad-based support" for what the president has done so far, Committee Chairman Dante B. Fascell (D-Fla.) told committee members Wednesday when it first came up for discussion. He said it avoids dealing with any future commitment to battle of deployed U.S. forces and does not give the president any "conditional or open-ended" authority.
Fascell said he "fully expected" that if U.S. troops went into battle, the "regular constitutional and legal processes will be followed," meaning that Bush should ask Congress for a declaration of war.
Rep. William S. Broomfield (Mich.), the committee's ranking Republican, said Bush had told legislators who met with him at the White House last week that he was seeking "support up until now" and hoped any congressional resolution would reflect "almost unanimous support."
Early yesterday afternoon, when the committee had to recess because Democrats kept seeking White House approval for additional language changes in the resolution, Broomfield told reporters he found it "amazing" that "we can get approval through the United Nations for the president's actions, but not through the Congress."
By limiting the resolution to support action so far, the House panel avoided a debate that House leaders and the White House believed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein or Middle Eastern U.S. allies might read as weakness in U.S. resolve.
Rep. Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.) said Bush's actions in the gulf were the "most significant foreign policy moves of this president" and said he "was not comfortable if Congress just ignored it."
House leaders plan to bring up the resolution on the House floor under a procedure that prohibits any amendments and requires a vote of two-thirds of the members for approval.
The White House has been nervous about any congressional resolution that might appear to limit Bush's authority to act as commander-in-chief. At the same time, some members of Congress have been critical of colleagues for not invoking the War Powers act, which requires the president to seek authorization to continue keeping troops in a situation 60 days after they are deemed in "imminent danger."
One of the final language agreements worked out with the White House yesterday afternoon was to assuage some committee Democrats' concerns that one phrase "might be giving the president encouragement" to use troops, a committee aide said. The wording was changed from "The United States shall, to the extent possible, use diplomatic and other nonmilitary means" to "The United States shall continue to emphasize the use of diplomatic and other means" to achieve objectives.
In the Senate, the Armed Services Committee unanimously approved Bush's request for the first $2 billion for the U.S. military buildup in Saudi Arabia, including retroactive $110 per month hazardous-duty pay for U.S. troops there. The bill would establish a Defense Cooperation Fund to accept contributions from other nations and require the Defense Department to seek congressional approval to spend that money. Only direct expenses of the buildup would be considered.