WASHINGTON -- Rep. Joe Heck said he will introduce a bill next week to cut off funding for military operations in Libya and compel an exit of U.S. forces from the mission within 30 days, amplifying his criticism of President Barack Obama's intervention in North Africa.
The Nevada Republican said Obama has not answered why it is in the U.S. national security interest to take part in airstrikes over Libya, whose leader, the oppressive Moammar Gadhafi, is battling rebels intent on overthrowing him.
He added Obama "is trying to dance around" the War Powers Act, which requires a president to seek approval from Congress to keep U.S. forces engaged in hostilities for longer than 60 days.
"I just don't think we can afford to stay engaged in Libya in either troops or dollars at a time when the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have said the biggest threat to our national security is our debt," said Heck, an officer in the U.S. Army Reserve.
Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., on Friday defended Obama's handling of Libya, saying he does not think the president needs congressional approval.
"The War Powers Act has no application to what is going on in Libya," Reid, the Senate majority leader, said in an interview on PBS. "We have no troops on the ground there, and this thing is going to be over before you know it, anyway."
Heck is not the only lawmaker eyeing restrictions on Obama.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, an anti-war Democrat who filed a federal complaint this week charging Obama overstepped his constitutional authority by intervening in Libya, said he plans to introduce a similar defunding bill.
A battle among the White House, Republican critics of Obama, anti-war Democrats and constitutionalists has been brewing since the United States launched airstrikes in March in support of a U.N. resolution calling for a "no-fly zone" over Libya to prevent Gadhafi from killing civilians as he struggles to stay in power.
In the escalating fight, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Thursday he would seek a cutoff of funding for U.S. participation after expressing dissatisfaction with a justification the administration sent to Capitol Hill this week.
In the 32-page report, Obama said he was not required to seek approval from Congress under the War Powers Act because the United States is in a supporting role to its NATO allies on the mission, and U.S. personnel are not directly facing hostilities. Some remote-controlled drones have been used to carry out attacks.
Some senators have criticized Obama over the War Powers Act, including Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.
Reid said he was not sure whether the Senate would take any votes on Libya. Failure of the Senate to act probably would orphan any bills passed in the House .
Reid criticized a Republican-led attack on the president. After the House passed a resolution criticizing Obama earlier this month, "Gadhafi sent them a letter and said, 'Thanks,' " Reid quipped.
Heck, who sits on the House Armed Services and House Intelligence committees, said Boehner gave him a green light to move forward with the bill, which still is in draft form. It is not known whether it will be endorsed by leadership and become the vehicle for debate on the House floor.
Heck, a colonel in the Army Reserve, was an early and vocal critic of military involvement in Libya. He voted on June 3 with most Republicans for a Boehner resolution criticizing Obama for failing to get permission to take military action.
On the same day, lawmakers defeated a Kucinich resolution calling for the United States to withdraw its troops in two weeks.
Heck voted against the Kucinich measure, saying 15 days would not give U.S. allies enough time to adjust their strategy after losing targeting, surveillance and communications expertise and other support provided by Americans.
Heck maintained on Friday that 30 days' notice of a U.S. withdrawal would not hamstring France, Britain and other NATO nations taking part in bombardments.
"Based on experience, within 30 days you can rework your operational plans to make up for any changes in staffing or equipment or capabilities," he said.
Besides, he added, "everyone was put on notice" when Congress became more vocal on Libya in the past few weeks.
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-783-1760.