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The House is sending mixed signals on President Barack Obama‘s military action against Libya, voting to prohibit weapons and training to rebels looking to oust Moammar Gadhafi but stopping short of trying to cut off money for American participation in the NATO-led mission.
In a series of votes Thursday, Republicans and Democrats expressed their dissatisfaction with the Libya operation, now in its fourth month with no end in sight and waning support from some nations in the international coalition. The House voted to bar military aid to the rebels but moments later rejected efforts to prevent funding for the limited U.S. mission.
The votes mirrored the contradictory actions of the House last month, when lawmakers refused to approve the operation but declined to cut off the money.
The latest House votes came on amendments to a $649 billion defense spending bill that lawmakers hoped to finish on Friday. The overall measure covering weapons and warships, jet fighters and bombers, personnel and military pay is $9 billion less than Obama requested but $17 billion more than current levels.
It covers the Pentagon budget beginning Oct. 1 but must be reconciled with a still-to-be-completed Senate version.
The congressional unrest over Libya stems from a stalemated civil war and Obama’s contention that he didn’t need congressional authorization to engage in another war on top of Afghanistan and Iraq because Libya fighting isn’t full-blown hostilities. Among war-weary NATO allies, Italy announced that it was reducing its participation in the campaign by removing an aircraft carrier from the region and pulling thousands of troops home.
“Libya did not attack us. Libya did not attack NATO,” Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., said. “However much we detest Mr. Gadhafi and his regime, we have no reason to be at war.”
The House voted 225-201 for an amendment sponsored by Cole to bar the Pentagon from providing “military equipment, training or advice or other support for military activities” to an outside group, such as rebel forces, for military action in or against Libya.
Forty-eight Democrats backed the Republican-sponsored measure.
The intent of the measure was to prohibit aid to the rebels such as weapons and assistance to their Transitional National Council, including operational planning. The broad effort also would target contractors in Libya.
Obama already has authorized $25 million in nonlethal assistance to the rebels, including thousands of meals ready to eat rations from Pentagon stocks. The U.S. also has supplied some $53 million in humanitarian aid. Neither would be affected by the bill.
Moments after that vote Thursday, the House rejected a measure that would have prohibited funds for the U.S. military to continue its limited role. The vote was 229-199, with 67 Democrats breaking with the administration to support the amendment.
“This is our moment to reclaim the Constitution of the United States,” said Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, who co-sponsored the amendment with freshman Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich. “We have the power to determine when to go to war, not some rebel power in Benghazi.”
Lawmakers argue that Obama violated the 1973 War Powers Resolution, which requires a president to seek congressional approval within 60 days of the first military strikes, a move the commander in chief did not make.
In a reflection of congressional anger toward the administration, the House voted overwhelmingly for an amendment that prohibits spending that violates the War Powers Resolution and focuses on future military operations.
The House also rejected two other efforts to prohibit funds for the U.S. military operation in Libya.
Sen. John McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, criticized the House vote on aid to the rebels, arguing that it sends the wrong message to Gadhafi and those challenging the long-time leader.
“I am saddened by the abandonment of America’s traditional support for those struggling for freedom and democracy, which has been a hallmark of our Republican Party for decades,” said the Arizona Republican, who traveled to Benghazi in April to meet with the rebels.
Since NATO took command of the Libya operation in early April, the U.S. role has largely been limited to support efforts such as intelligence, surveillance and electronic warfare. The U.S. has launched drone attacks and other airstrikes, flying more than 3,400 sorties.
The Senate has delayed consideration of a resolution authorizing the U.S. mission in Libya.
Amid negotiations to slash spending and raise the nation’s borrowing limit, the House rejected several amendments to cut the Pentagon budget, including a measure by Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., to half the bill’s increase in defense spending over this year’s level.