The House of Representatives voted last week to pass H.R. 1735, also known as the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) -- 269 in favor to 161 opposed. The vote came over the concerns of several dozen members of Congress who urged the lower chamber to debate and vote on authorizing the use of military force against ISIS before the vote on the NDAA.
In a letter to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and 28 co-signers argued:
"We are deeply concerned that eight months into Operation Inherent Resolve, the House has taken no action on an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) which would provide a clear legal justification for the actions against ISIL... The most recent Legislative Memo released by the Majority Leader contains no suggestion that consideration of an AUMF on the floor is imminent. This dereliction of our constitutional duty causes great injury to the Congress, and threatens our role as a check on the President's power to make war."
The $612 billion NDAA includes $88.6 billion in funding for 'Overseas Contingency Operations.' That encompasses military action against ISIS, which has not yet specifically been authorized by the legislative branch. President Obama contends that the AUMFs that were passed in 2001 and 2002 still grant the executive the power to commit military resources in the fight against ISIS.
Yet in February, Obama sent Congress a new AUMF that would specifically pertain to the current threat from ISIS. Nine months after the U.S. began bombing ISIS, Congress has yet to vote on it.
While last week's vote fell largely on party lines, criticism has been mounting from a vocal minority of lawmakers -- including Republicans. One of the most vocal has been U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.). In December, he threatened to tie a war declaration to the NDAA and called the current military action in the region unconstitutional.
Democratic Senators Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Brian Schatz of Hawaii penned a letter of their own in December urging a vote by Congress:
"U.S. military operations must be authorized by Congress. We are hopeful that we can work together to uphold our responsibility to the American people and have a more serious debate about America’s military operations against ISIL."
Of nearly $90 billion in the Pentagon's 'contingency operations' budget, the Wall Street Journal pegged the cost of U.S.-led airstrikes against ISIS at nearly $9 billion a year.
Image: House Speaker, John Boehner (R-OH) / Maplight.org