ABC News’ John R. Parkinson (@JRPabcDC) reports:
While the focus of the 112th Congress so far has predominantly been job creation, deficit reduction and the looming debt crisis, one aspect of that debate that’s gaining momentum recently is the cost of the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.
In the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death in Abbottobad, Pakistan last month, many members have questioned the need for a military presence in Afghanistan – particularly since the al Qaeda leader was not even in Afghanistan and the Pentagon says less than 100 al Qaeda fighters remain there.
Today, Speaker of the House John Boehner called on the president to “step up and help the American understand why these missions are vital to the national security interests of our country.”
Boehner said that having recently visited Afghanistan he has “a pretty good feel” for the national security interests there, but called on the president to clearly define the missions in all three current theatres of war.
“The president has a role to play here,” Boehner, R-Ohio, said. “I really do believe that the president needs to speak out, in terms of our mission in Afghanistan, our mission in Iraq, our mission in Libya, and the doubts that our members have frankly reflected they’re reflecting what they’re hearing from their constituents.”
Last week, the House voted 215-204 to defeat an effort to require the administration to create a timetable to speed up the transfer of military operations in Afghanistan to local authorities. Twenty-six Republicans joined 178 Democrats in supporting the McGovern amendment. Eight Democrats opposed the measure – enough to defeat the amendment.
“There’s a lot of concern given the budget deficit and given our debt. I think that every penny that the Congress spends is getting a lot more scrutiny,” Boehner added. “Members are a bit wary about the amount of money which we’ve spent in Iraq and Afghanistan and that we’re spending in Libya, and as a result, really are wondering ‘what’s our vital national security interest there?’”
Asked whether he believes whether a withdrawal of about 5,000 troops, as President Obama reportedly plans, is steep enough, Boehner reiterated his support for the president on Afghanistan.
“I’ve been supportive of the president’s goals in Afghanistan. I was supportive of the surge in troops in Afghanistan, and I said then, and I’ll continue to say, as long as the president is listening to our diplomats and commanders on the ground, I will support him,” Boehner said. “I don’t know what the number – the correct number – should or shouldn’t be, but if he continues to work with our diplomats and our generals on the ground, he’ll have my support.”
Earlier this week, a resolution introduced by Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, that would have require the president to withdraw U.S. Armed Forces from participation in the NATO mission in Libya within 15 days after passage, was pulled off the floor despite likely having enough bipartisan support to pass.
Today, Boehner was mum on why the resolution was pulled, but suggested that the House would ultimately take a position on Libya – even as soon as the end of this week.
“We’ve going to meet with our members this afternoon to talk about Libya, and I think we’ll see what our members have to say, but I expect that this issue will be resolved tomorrow,” Boehner said.
Still, Kucinich is continuing to press the administration and the speaker to bring his resolution to the floor for a vote.
“We have now been involved in a war on Libya for over 72 days with no constitutionally required authorization for the use of military force or declaration of war. The President recently submitted a letter to Congress about the war in Libya arguing that he was not required to come to Congress for authorization because the war is not really a war. Really,” Kucinich said in a statement Thursday. “While we may not all agree on the merits of military intervention in Libya, we can all agree that Congress must have the opportunity to have a full and ample debate on the commitment of U.S. Armed Forces to a war abroad.
"This institution cannot stand by idly as a war of choice with significant ramifications for our national and economic security is waged without Congress fulfilling its responsibilities under the Constitution," Kucinich added. "We must defend the Constitution of the United States.”