House doesn’t like Libya mission, but won’t defund it

The House took up two measures today related to U.S. military efforts in Libya. Both failed, but the larger result was a bit of a mixed message.

The first was a resolution that would have authorized the mission that’s already underway — a sort of stamp of approval from the House that President Obama didn’t ask for and doesn’t think he needs. On this, the vote was pretty one-sided, with 295 members voting not to authorize the U.S. mission. Reinforcing the notion of declining neo-con influence, only eight Republicans voted in favor of the resolution.

The second vote was arguably more interesting.

In something of a surprise, the House on Friday rejected a measure to cut funding for offensive operations by U.S. forces in Libya, pulling back from an effort to confront President Obama over the three month-old conflict.

That resolution failed by a vote of 180 to 238. It would not have ended the U.S. mission in Libya, but it would have cut off funding for American forces that are not engaged in support missions within the NATO-led coalition, like aerial refueling, reconnaissance, and planning. That would have meant an end to strikes on Libyan targets by unmanned U.S. drones.

Many expected this measure to cut off funding, sponsored by Rep. Thomas Rooney (R-Fla.), to pass, especially given the fact that it enjoyed the support of House Republican leaders. By the time the gavel came down, though, the resolution fell 38 votes short, thanks in large part to the opposition of most Democrats.

There are two other angles to this that jump out at me. The first is that the House isn’t sending much of a signal to anyone. The lower chamber apparently doesn’t like the mission in Libya, but isn’t prepared to take steps to stop it. Good to know.

The second is appreciating just how different the Republican approach is now that there’s a Democratic president. As recently as 2007, when House Dems were weighing a measure to cut off funding for the war in Iraq, then-Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) was outraged. How dare members of Congress, he said at the time, “cut off funding for our troops” and “play games with the lives of our soldiers.”

It was also common, at the time, to hear GOP lawmakers remind Democrats that there’s one Commander in Chief, not 435.

Today, most of the House GOP voted to cut off funding for the U.S. mission in Libya. And if you think this would have happened if a Republican were in the White House, I’m quite certain you’re mistaken.