WASHINGTON -- Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) introduced legislation Wednesday to authorize military force against Islamic State militants -- a step aimed at forcing Congress to take responsibility for a war it's been funding for nearly six months with almost no debate on its duration, costs or potential toll.
Lawmakers have put no parameters on the U.S. military campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, since it began in August. Since then, the U.S. has spent more than $1 billion, participated in more than 1,700 airstrikes, and authorized sending roughly 3,000 U.S. troops to Iraq. All of this has happened without new war authorization.
Schiff's proposed Authorization for the Use of Military Force would do three things: limit military action against ISIS to three years; prohibit the use of U.S. ground troops; and immediately terminate a still-active 2002 AUMF tied to the Iraq War. It also would end, in three years, a sweeping 2001 AUMF that President Barack Obama says gives him the authority to go after ISIS without new war authorization. Some in Congress disagree that Obama has that authority and insist he needs new authorization, which the president says he would welcome.
"There is no doubt that our current offensive amounts to war," said Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. "Congress should take action both to authorize its prosecution and to set limits on that authorization so it may not be used by any future administration in a manner contrary to our intent."
Schiff's AUMF would expire after three years.
Schiff is a lonely voice in the House. Even progressives, like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), have treated the need for new war authorization as an afterthought. It's not much better in the Senate, where Democrats hastily passed an AUMF out of a committee in late December, knowing it was going nowhere. They did so to show their frustration over the lack of attention to the issue.
If the new Congress has revealed anything, it's that nobody in Washington wants to go first when it comes to authorizing a war. The White House typically submits draft AUMF language to Congress as a first step to moving a bill, but administration officials say they want feedback from Capitol Hill before moving. Lawmakers, meanwhile, are grumbling about waiting for draft language from Obama when they could be moving forward with legislation on their own.
"There is plenty of responsibility to go around," Schiff told The Huffington Post. "I place more responsibility here than at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. They don't have to make the first step. There is nothing holding us back except political timidity."
For now, Schiff is on the lookout for co-sponsors for his bill. He doesn't have any yet, but he said he plans to reach out to lawmakers in both parties. Nobody in the Senate has introduced AUMF legislation, though Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), a vocal proponent for passing new war authorization, has called for using last year's committee-passed bill as the base for new legislation in this Congress.
Schiff acknowledged that his proposal is probably more narrow than the White House wants, and that Obama will likely look to Republicans to give him broad authority. Secretary of State John Kerry told senators in December that the administration would oppose an AUMF that explicitly prohibits U.S. ground troops, which some Democrats have insisted on. Republicans appeared more amenable to Kerry's request.
Still, Schiff said, some in the GOP are wary of another potentially protracted war in the Middle East.
"Many of us are skeptical of another broad AUMF considering what's happened with the last one," Schiff said. "There will be some interesting bedfellows on this."