Saturday, August 31, 2013


The President has announced that he will ask Congress for authorization to strike Syria in response to the clear and convincing evidence that the Assad regime launched a chemical attack against civilians, killing well over a thousand people, including at least two hundred children. The President said the US is obligated to respond to prevent other rogue governments or terrorist groups from thinking they can use chemical weapons without reprisal or consequence. Officials are preparing an Authorization to Use Military Force that will be presented to Congress this week or next. Senate Majority Leader Reid is considering recalling the Senate to act on the AUMF this week. Speaker Boehner has said the House will take it up the week beginning September 9, when the House returns from recess.

This move has caught essentially everybody off guard. The assumption was that the President would act unilaterally, after conferring with Congress. Even after Prime Minister Cameron lost a close vote for the British to support a strike, most analysts were confident the President would act and order a limited strike. No one forecasted that he would invite Congress to the table and ask them to vote for or against a strike authorization, in effect requiring them to share in the decision responsibility, and to put an end to the endless armchair quarterbacking.

This is a brilliant move, in my opinion. The Commander in Chief has requested authorization to conduct a military operation that his Executive team and the military think is necessary. Will Congress say no? I don't think so - my guess is the probability is 80% he will get the vote. Critics will say that he is reacting from a position of weakness, after the loss of Britain as a partner. I see it as moving from a very strong position. He's saying, "Support me and support the country to do what your Commander in Chief is certain is necessary." Saying no to that request will, I believe, be politically very difficult.

All this makes a quick 60 day extension CR on the budget, from October 1 to December 1, even more likely. It might even allow a similar extension on the debt ceiling, say from October 15 to December 15. We can't be shutting down the Government or threatening a debt default when we are engaging in a military operation.

What we cannot know yet is how this may shuffle the political deck - whether one or more key groups get caught on the wrong end of things in the coming AUMF vote, and then feel they might need to reconsider their budget strategy.

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