September 8, 2014 / 11:06 PM / 5 years ago

U.S. Congress seen approving funds if needed for Islamic State campaign

WASHINGTON, Sept 8 (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to pursue a military campaign against Islamic State without seeking special congressional authority now but lawmakers said on Monday they would probably approve any request he made for extra funding.

They said there was widespread support in Congress for attacks to stop the advance of the Sunni Islamist militant group, especially after the videotaped beheading of two American journalists by the Islamist group in the last three weeks.

The 1973 War Powers Resolution requires that the president consult Congress before introducing U.S. armed forces into hostilities but allows them to remain for 60 days before he has to obtain Congress’ approval for action.

The president, who campaigned for the White House in 2008 on getting U.S. troops out of Iraq, has struggled to articulate how he wants to address Islamic State, telling reporters last month that “we don’t have a strategy yet” to tackle the group.

Obama is this week elaborating on a more aggressive strategy toward eliminating the militants, building on a campaign of air attacks on their positions in Iraq and creating an international coalition with European and regional allies.

He is due to outline his plan to Democratic and Republican leaders on Tuesday and to the American people in a speech on Wednesday. His spokesman Josh Earnest said Obama would consider seeking additional authorization from Congress if he expanded his operations, perhaps into Syria, the group’s main base.

“At the point the president’s made that decision, we can start making decisions about what sort of congressional role or authorization is required, if any,” he said.

Lawmakers said there was little appetite for a high-profile vote to approve more military action in the Middle East ahead of mid-term congressional elections on Nov. 4.

Obama’s fellow Democrats are struggling to keep their five-seat majority in the Senate and may lose additional seats in the House of Representatives, already controlled by Republicans.

“This is a very tough decision and I think that there probably frankly would be a lot of people who would want to push it off for a lame-duck session,” Representative Eliot Engel, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told Reuters. He was referring to a session taking place after the election but before a new congress is sworn in early next year.


Lawmakers, however, were expected to vote on extra money for the military campaign if it is requested before heading home later this month to start campaigning.

The sum of any request has yet to be determined. The money would likely be included in a continuing budget resolution, which Congress must pass to keep the government running after the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30.

Oklahoma Republican Tom Cole, a member of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, said he thought Congress would overwhelmingly approve any funding request.

“At the end of the day, if he’s employing the funds to go after the kinds of people who are chopping off the heads of our fellow Americans, and threatening to do more, I think the votes are going to be there,” Cole told Reuters.

Congressional aides said the sense in the House and Senate was that Obama did not need extra authorization to pursue the strategy but that he may seek it if he extends the action to attacks inside Syria, where the fighters are based.

Islamic State grew out of an al Qaeda-affiliated group that was defeated in Iraq and developed as a fighting force opposing President Bashar al-Assad in Syria. This year it occupied a large part of northern Iraq.

Members of Congress are worried that destroying the Islamic State would boost Assad, and many have been pressing Washington to step up support for moderate Syrian rebels while fighting the more radical Islamic State.

On Tuesday, Sept. 16, Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will testify at House and Senate hearings. (Additional reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by David Storey and Howard Goller)

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