WASHINGTON — Setting up a showdown on Libya, House Republicans agreed on Wednesday to vote on dueling measures, one to give President Barack Obama limited authority to continue U.S. involvement in the NATO-led operation against Moammar Gadhafi and the other to cut off funds for military hostilities.
Officials said the measures — a resolution and a bill — most likely would come to a vote Friday, a timetable that reflects widespread dissatisfaction with Obama's decision not to seek congressional consent for the 3-month-old war.
"The fact is the president has not made his case to the members of Congress," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters. "He's not made his case to the American people. We've been in this conflict for 90 days and the president hasn't talked to the American people for four or five weeks about why we're there, what our national interest is and why we should continue."
Emerging from a closed-door meeting on the resolution and the competing legislation, rank-and-file Republicans indicated a growing consensus for the bill, which would bar funds for Libya except for money spent this year on search and rescue, aerial refueling, operational planning, intelligence and surveillance and non-combat missions.
This was a direct response to Obama's claim that the action does not amount to full-blown hostilities and did not need congressional approval.
"It would not have funding for hostilities. Drones couldn't be used for bombing," said Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
The Libyan war has exposed deep divisions in Congress and within the GOP ranks.
Leading Republicans and Democrats in the Senate are pushing a resolution to give Obama limited authority in the conflict, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., calling it a "clear statement to our allies, to the world, to the Libyan people and to Gadhafi that we support the administration's actions on Libya."
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, sponsored the resolution that would put a one-year limit on the mission and prohibit U.S. ground forces in Libya.
The House resolution to continue the mission mirrors the Senate measure.
The competing efforts put senators at odds with members of the House, including anti-war Democrats and tea party-backed Republicans, who question the legitimacy of the operation since Obama never sought congressional consent under the 1973 War Powers Resolution.
"We have a responsibility to follow the rule of law and as the chief law enforcement officer of the land so does he," Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said of the president.
Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, said a House vote to end the operation would "give hope to this dictator Moammar Gadhafi, undermine the effort of the innocent people in Libya and strike a blow at our NATO alliance."
Obama did not seek congressional authorization when he launched air strikes against Gadhafi's forces on March 19. Lawmakers argue that Obama is in violation of the War Powers Resolution, which requires approval of the legislative branch within 60 days, with a 30-day extension. That deadline has passed.
The White House, in a report to Congress last week, said the limited U.S. role in the operation did not amount to hostilities and did not require congressional authorization, an argument that further upset lawmakers.
"That's outrageous. What do you do, spend $9 million a day to play table tennis?" said Rep. Donald Manzullo, R-Ill.
In a Senate speech, Reid argued that the challenge to Obama was politically driven.
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"Some Republicans in the House of Representatives and on the campaign trail have expressed concern over our involvement in this conflict," Reid said. "They have clearly decided to use the War Powers Resolution as a political bludgeon to pursue a partisan agenda."
The Democratic leader said the question for lawmakers was whether U.S. involvement in a mission "to stop mass murder and chaos" in Libya was the right decision.
"I'm confident it was," Reid said. "Moammar Gadhafi's repressive dictatorship is a threat to the region and to the United States' national security."
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will consider the Kerry-McCain resolution next week, but the full Senate may not act for weeks.