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Group Proposes New Controls over U.S. War Powers

A bipartisan study group proposed a new war powers legislation that would force the president to consult lawmakers before launching a long-term combat. James Baker and Warren Christopher defend changing the original 1973 act.

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  • MARGARET WARNER:

    It was the costly and bloody Vietnam War that touched off the modern-day struggle between the White House and Congress over the power to go to war, but the conflict is as old as the Constitution itself.

    Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war. But Article 2, Section 2 of the Constitution makes the president commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces.

    HARRY TRUMAN, former president of the United States: The president has the power to meet an emergency when it comes up. And he should take the bull by the horns and meet it when it's necessary.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Presidents since Truman have used that power to order American forces into combat with and without congressional approval.

    As the Vietnam War, which cost 58,000 American lives and hundreds of billions of dollars, wound down, Congress sought to reign in President Nixon and future presidents with the 1973 War Powers Resolution.

    Under the resolution, which remains in force today, a president's commander-in-chief powers may only be used after a declaration of war, other congressional authorization, or an attack on the United States.

    The president must consult Congress before introducing U.S. forces into hostilities or situations where combat is imminent.

    The president must report to Congress regularly after sending troops to war and must withdraw forces within 60 days if Congress doesn't authorize them to stay.

    President Nixon vetoed the resolution, but Congress overrode the veto.

    GEORGE H.W. BUSH, former President of the United States: America and the world must defend common vital interests, and we will.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Nixon and his successors have all maintained that the War Powers Act is unconstitutional. That issue has never been resolved by the Supreme Court.

    Yet modern commanders-in-chief have gone to Congress for authorization to use force. Most recently, President Bush in 2002 asked for, and received, congressional approval before going into Iraq.

    Today, two former secretaries of state, heads of a bipartisan private commission, proposed replacing the War Powers Act with a new law. Their proposal would require the president to consult specific congressional leaders before launching hostilities expected to last more than a week.

    Congress, in turn, would be required to vote within 30 days on whether to approve the military action. Commission member Slade Gorton is a former Republican senator from Washington state.

  • SLADE GORTON, National War Powers Commission:

    We've attempted to create a balance that should meet favor both in the Congress and in the executive branch, and as has been the case on this commission, a balance with appeal to both Republicans and to Democrats.

    We think that we are doing what the members of Congress 35 years ago might well have done themselves had they anticipated the problems with the bill that they actually passed.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    The commission called on the next president and next Congress to enact the new law within the first 100 days.

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