WASHINGTON -- Americans are wondering, with the lassitude of uninvolved spectators, whether the president will initiate a war with Iran. Some Democratic presidential candidates worry, or purport to, that he might claim an authorization for war in a Senate resolution labeling an Iranian Revolutionary Guard unit a terrorist organization. Some Democratic representatives oppose the president's request for $88 million to equip B-2 stealth bombers to carry huge "bunker-buster" bombs, hoping to thereby impede a presidential decision to attack Iran's hardened nuclear facilities.
While legislators try to leash a president by tinkering with a weapon, a sufficient leash -- the Constitution -- is being ignored by them. They are derelict in their sworn duty to uphold it. Regarding the most momentous thing government does, make war, the constitutional system of checks and balances is broken.
Congress can, however, put the Constitution's bridle back on the presidency. Congress can end unfettered executive warmaking by deciding to. That might not require, but would be facilitated by, enacting the Constitutional War Powers Resolution. Introduced last week by Rep. Walter Jones, a North Carolina Republican, it technically amends, but essentially would supplant, the existing War Powers Resolution, which has been a nullity ever since it was passed in 1973 over President Nixon's veto.
Jones' measure is designed to ensure that deciding to go to war is, as the Founders insisted it be, a "collective judgment." It would prohibit presidents from initiating military actions except to repel or retaliate for sudden attacks on America or American troops abroad, or to protect and evacuate U.S. citizens abroad. It would provide for expedited judicial review to enforce compliance with the resolution, and permit the use of federal funds only for military actions taken in compliance with the resolution.
It reflects conclusions reached by the War Powers Initiative of the Constitution Project. That nonpartisan organization's 2005 study notes that Congress' appropriation power augments the requirement of advance authorization by Congress before the nation goes to war. It enables Congress to stop the use of force by cutting off its funding. That check is augmented by the Anti-Deficiency Act, which prohibits any expenditure or obligation of funds not appropriated by Congress, and by legislation that criminalizes violations of the act.