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War Powers Act needs fixing, bipartisan panel says

  • Story Highlights
  • War Powers Act is "ineffective" and should be repealed, blue-ribbon panel says
  • Former secretaries of state James Baker and Warren Christopher led the study
  • They say the project was not prompted by any specific war
  • Panel proposes new law requiring president to consult with Congress
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States needs a new law requiring that the president consult with Congress before going to war, a blue-ribbon panel led by two former secretaries of state said Tuesday.

James Baker, left, and Warren Christopher led a panel that recommended a new War Powers Act.

James Baker, left, and Warren Christopher led a panel that recommended a new War Powers Act.

The current War Powers Resolution is "ineffective, and it should be repealed and it should be replaced," James Baker said in a joint appearance with Warren Christopher, announcing the results of the study they led.

The recommendation follows failed efforts by Democrats in Congress to put a stop to the war in Iraq or to put conditions on President Bush's conduct of it.

Congress passed a joint resolution to authorize armed force against Iraq in 2002, but some Bush opponents say it should not have been interpreted as a blank check for the United States to invade and occupy the Persian Gulf nation.

Baker, who served in George H.W. Bush's administration, and Christopher, who served under President Bill Clinton, said their project was not prompted by any specific war, with Christopher adding that the commission had "tried very hard not to call balls and strikes on past history here."

"We didn't direct this report at any particular conflict," Baker added.

The existing law, the War Powers Resolution of 1973, has been regarded as unconstitutional by every president since it was passed as a response to the Vietnam War, Baker and Christopher said. It requires presidents to report regularly to Congress about ongoing conflicts, but the provision has been flouted.

"No president has ever made a submission to Congress pursuant to the War Powers Resolution since 1973," former Sen. Slade Gorton, a Republican member of the committee, said Tuesday.

The panel, formally called the National War Powers Commission, said a new law should be created requiring the president to consult with key members of Congress before sending troops into combat expected to last more than a week, or within three days of doing so in the case of operations that need to be kept secret.

It should also make clear exactly who the president needed to consult. The panel suggests that the president talk to "a joint Congressional committee made up of the leaders of the House and the Senate as well as the chairmen and ranking members of key committees." The new committee would have a permanent professional staff with access to intelligence information, Baker and Christopher said.

Congress, in turn, would have to declare war or vote on a "resolution of approval" within 30 days, they said.

If a resolution of approval failed, any member of Congress could introduce a "resolution of disapproval," but it was not clear that such an act would stop a war in progress.

Christopher was unable to say in the news conference what practical effect congressional disapproval would have.

Baker said the commission had been in touch with the presidential campaigns of Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain, as well as leaders of Congress. He declined to reveal what they thought of the proposal, but said: "We haven't gotten a negative reaction."

Congress has not officially declared war since 1942, when the United States entered formal hostilities with the Axis powers in World War II. But since then, presidents have sent troops into countries including Korea, Vietnam, Grenada and Iraq.

The Constitution makes the president the commander in chief of the armed forces, but gives Congress the power to declare war and approve military budgets.

Baker and Christopher's group included both Republicans and Democrats and held seven meetings over 14 months.

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