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Panel Urges New Law On U.S. Government War Powers

U.S. President George W. Bush
WASHINGTON -- The U.S. president should be forced by law to consult Congress before going to war, a bipartisan panel including several prominent former U.S. officials has said.

The commission led by former Secretaries of State James Baker, a Republican, and Warren Christopher, a Democrat, aimed to clarify the cloudy division between the White House and the U.S. Congress over the power to conduct war.

The panel proposed a new law -- the "War Powers Consultation Act" -- that would require the president to consult with Congress before deploying U.S. troops into "significant armed conflict," defined as combat operations lasting, or expected to last, more than a week.

Disputes over the unpopular Iraq war have revived constitutional arguments about the limits of congressional and presidential war powers. Under the Constitution, Congress declares war and controls funding, but the president is commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

Resolution Of Approval, Disapproval

President George W. Bush got congressional authorization in 2002 for the Iraq war. It was unclear whether the law proposed on July 8 would have changed that outcome.

The proposed law would require Congress to vote on a resolution of approval or disapproval. But it would not require the president to win lawmakers' consent. The president could simply veto a congressional resolution of disapproval and continue combat operations.

"This new statute could give us a new day of consultation between the president and the Congress," Christopher said.

With the presidential campaign to elect a successor to Bush in November well under way, it was doubtful there would be any congressional action on the proposal especially in light of the Democrats' failure so far to alter the president's war conduct.

'Undermining the Constitution'

The new call for legislation that requires the president to consult but not seek approval from Congress for combat operations was criticized by some constitutional experts who wanted the commission to affirm lawmakers' sole authority to declare war.

"The commission risks undermining the Constitution's checks and balances by asking Congress to serve as the president's consultant, rather than the other way around," said Mickey Edwards, a former congressman who is now with the Constitution Project, an independent think tank.

Many constitutional experts and defense policy analysts say the executive branch of the U.S. government has slowly consolidated war powers over decades, leaving lawmakers with less control over the use of U.S. military forces.