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Libya: The Will of the House

"As the chamber closest to the people, the House works best when it is allowed to work its will," - House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) after assuming the gavel on January 3.

"We will allow the House to work its will," - Boehner during a January 30 appearance on FOX News Sunday.

"I am committed to the House working its will," - Boehner during a February 18 debate about funding a secondary engine for the Joint Strike Fighter.

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The House of Representatives has worked a little differently the past five months than in previous years. Unlike many of his predecessors, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has allowed a more free-wheeling process on the floor. In February, Boehner permitted fellow lawmakers to flood the floor with streams of amendments as the House debated a major spending measure. The House just passed the Homeland Security funding bill yesterday. Again, lawmakers saturated the process with amendments. This is something rarely seen under the regimes of recent House Speakers.

Over the past 20 years, the trend in the House has been for the speaker to lock bills down. Democratic and Republican speakers alike have hyper-managed the institution. They've either written the legislation entirely themselves or strictly controlled the process so only a handful of amendments were in order for debate.

So far this year, Boehner has generally made good on his promise of an "open" debate. Rather than pre-ordaining the outcome from the Speaker's Office, Boehner's allowed the House to "work its will."

Until the will of the House ran the risk of imperiling a major U.S. military operation overseas coupled with the potential for leaving NATO in the lurch.

That's why Boehner interceded Thursday on efforts to handcuff President Obama for his decision to involve the U.S. military in NATO's Libya mission.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have been up in arms for weeks over how the president injected the U.S. into the operation without first obtaining a Congressional blessing. Many claim Mr. Obama is either in violation of the 1973 War Powers Resolution (which requires Congressional approval of a military mission after 60 days) or even the U.S. Constitution, which grants Congress the authority to declare war.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) authored a resolution a few weeks ago to require the president to halt the involvement of the U.S. in the Libya conflict. Initially, the House planned to consider the Kucinich resolution on Wednesday. But quickly, the GOP leadership realized that if the House worked its will, it's likely the lawmakers would adopt Kucinich's plan.

Even though many rank-and-file lawmakers agreed with Kucinich, the GOP majority was reluctant to have a liberal, Democratic Congressman take the lead on this issue. Secondly, some feared Kucinich's resolution went too far, mandating a withdrawal when Congress had failed to consult top commanders in the field. Plus, House Republicans certainly didn't want to debate the Libya issue on the same day the entire GOP Conference huddled with Mr. Obama at the White House on the debt ceiling. Third, there was worry that a U.S. withdrawal could harm the viability of NATO.

The United States dominates NATO. Many fretted that a decision by the U.S. to drop out in mid-battle could jeopardize future international efforts.

So for one of the first times this year, John Boehner intervened rather than allow the House to work its will.

Late Thursday, Boehner took the rare step of introducing his own, competing resolution. The Ohio Republican hoped to dilute support for Kucinich yet allow the House to have its say without hamstringing NATO or President Obama.

Boehner's tempered resolution requests that the White House detail the costs and objectives of U.S. involvement in the NATO operation. In addition, Boehner's measure demands answers from the president as to why he didn't ask Congress's permission to get involved in Libya in the first place.

Ironically enough, even though Boehner exercised his authority as Speaker of the House, he didn't completely "big foot" Kucinich. And the House still has an opportunity to "work its will."

That's because Boehner isn't offering his Libya resolution in lieu of Kucinich's. Boehner's allowing the House to consider Kucinich's resolution in addition to his own. Still, the Republican leadership hopes that's enough to siphon off support for Kucinich's idea.

In other words, the House could adopt either resolution, or neither. Or it could vote for one and not the other.

The House will work its will. But a little differently than in months past.

Still, that doesn't impress all lawmakers.

"I believe the president overstepped his authority," said Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN). "We've got to put a stop to this."

Freshman Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) believes the president may be able to justify why the U.S. is involved with Libya. But no one knows until he acts.

"I think the president has the responsibility to come here and make the case," Kinzinger said. "I think that's a tactical mistake on his part."

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA) doesn't understand why the White House is playing its cards so close to the vest on Libya.

"If they would just give us the rationale," mused McKeon outside a meeting where Boehner introduced his dual-track approach on Libya "Why does he need to make an enemy of the Congress? It's just a clumsy way to do it."

For his part, Kucinich was glad to get an airing of his resolution. And concerns about NATO didn't wash with him.

"NATO is a sock puppet," said Kucinich who withdrew a copy of the Constitution from his suit pocket and held it out in front of him during an interview. "This Constitution trumps NATO."

By early evening, the House Rules Committee, the panel that controls access to the floor, prepared to make both the Boehner and Kucinich resolutions in order for debate Friday. Incidentally, Reps. Tom Rooney (R-FL) and Mike Turner (R-OH) drafted additional Libya resolutions. But the speaker didn't grant those resolutions access to the House floor.

Kucinich appeared before the Rules panel to explain his resolution. Multiple Democrats warned Kucinich that he shouldn't rejoice in the fact that his resolution would be up for a vote.

"This is an attempt to cut you out," lectured Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY).

Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) asserted there was a reason Boehner authored a resolution less harsh than Kucinich's idea.

"Let's expose this for what it is. It's an attempt to get Republicans to vote instead for this instead of voting for you," McGovern told Kucinich.

Rep. Rob Woodall (R-GA) took exception with Democratic efforts to chasten the Ohio Democrat.

"For someone to come up here and to tell them that someone's out to get him is offensive," fumed Woodall.

Perhaps the strongest admonition of Kucinich came not from one of the Democrats who serve on the Rules Committee, but from someone who wasn't even there. While the Rules Committee met, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) published a statement that took the extraordinary step of criticizing the legislative initiative of a fellow Democrat.

"The resolutions by Speaker Boehner and Congressman Kucinich, as currently drafted, do not advance our efforts in the region and send the wrong message to our NATO partners," Pelosi said in her release.

Lawmakers from both parties think the president failed to get Congress to weigh-in on Libya. So today, the House of Representatives passes judgment on Mr. Obama.

For the most part, John Boehner has allowed the House to work its will throughout the year. But this time, the speaker hopes to best Kucinich with his own resolution.

By the end of Friday, the House will have worked its will.

And the will of the House will likely reflect poorly on how President Obama handled the Libyan crisis.

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