The National Security Powers Act Safeguards Congressional Prerogative in Use of Military Force, Emergency Powers, and Arms Exports by Cutting Off Funding for Activities Lacking Authorization
WASHINGTON, July 20 — Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), and Mike Lee (R-Utah) Tuesday introduced bipartisan legislation to reclaim Congress’ critical role in national security matters. The National Security Powers Act specifically safeguards congressional prerogatives in the use of military force, emergency powers and arms exports. In each of these cases, the president is required to consult congressional leaders and obtain congressional authorization before exercising the powers in question. Any congressional authorization will have to meet specific requirements, including an automatic sunset. Under the National Security Powers Act, any activities lacking such authorization will face an automatic funding cutoff after a specified number of days. Rep. James P. McGovern (D-Mass.) will introduce companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives in the coming weeks.
“I believe that we have become far too comfortable with the United States engaging in military interventions all over the world, and the time is long overdue for Congress to reassert its constitutional role in matters of war and peace,” said Sen. Sanders. “Article I of the Constitution clearly states that it is Congress, not the president, which has the power to declare war. The Framers gave that power to Congress, the branch most accountable to the people, but over many years Congress has allowed its oversight authority to wane and executive power to expand. This legislation is an important step toward reasserting that constitutional power, and I hope it will lead to a larger discussion, both in the Congress and among the public, about the uses of military force in our foreign policy.”
“The founders envisioned a balance of power between the executive and legislative branches of government on national security matters. But over time, Congress has acquiesced to the growing, often unchecked power of the executive to determine the outline of America’s footprint in the world. More than ever before, presidents are sending men and women into battle without public debate, and making major policy decisions, like massive arms sales, without congressional input,” said Sen. Murphy. “Before it’s too late, Congress needs to reclaim its rightful role as co-equal branch on matters of war and national security. The bipartisan National Security Powers Act will make sure that there is a full, open and public debate on all major national security decisions, such as war making, arms sales and emergency declarations.”
“Presidents of both parties have usurped Congress’ prerogative to determine if, when, and how we go to war. Now America’s global standing, treasure, and brave service members are being lost in conflicts the people’s legislators never debated. In areas where the Constitution grants broad powers to Congress, Congress is ignored. The National Security Powers Act will change that and return these checks and balances to our government,” said Sen. Lee.
“Everything has changed over the last few decades: when we fight, how we fight, and why we fight. I’m proud that there is now a bicameral, bipartisan effort in the House and Senate to reform our national security apparatus so it works in the modern age, for a modern Congress, and for a modern military. I look forward to working with my colleagues and the Biden administration to put an end to endless wars, reexamine broad executive powers, and build a more safe and peaceful world,” said Rep. McGovern.
The National Security Powers Act is divided into three parts—war powers reform, arms export reform, and national emergencies reform —all unified by a set of standard rules and procedures that reassert and safeguard congressional prerogatives. In each case, the president is required to consult congressional leaders and obtain congressional authorization before exercising the powers in question. Any congressional authorization will have to meet specific requirements, including an automatic sunset. Any activities lacking such authorization will face an automatic funding cutoff after a specified number of days.
Title I: War Powers Reform
- Defines key terms left undefined in the original War Powers Resolution (WPR), especially the term “hostilities”, which over the years has been interpreted so narrowly by the Executive branch that key aspects of the WPR became almost meaningless. Defining “hostilities” is necessary to make the War Powers Resolution, and especially the termination clock, meaningful.
- Shortens the 60-day “termination clock,” after which the President must terminate hostilities that aren’t authorized by Congress. Shortening the period before automatic termination from 60 days to 20 days makes it harder for the Executive branch to start hostilities that are not defensive in nature.
- Adds teeth to the WPR by automatically cutting off funding if the President does not secure the necessary congressional authorization. Under current law, Congress must seek a veto-proof majority to terminate an unauthorized military action; this legislation ‘flips the script’ so that funding automatically cuts off unless the President secures authorization from Congress.
- Outlines requirements for future authorizations for use of military force, including a clearly defined mission and operational objectives, the identities of groups or countries targeted, and a two-year sunset. A subsequent authorization is required to expand the list of objectives, countries or targeted groups.
- Sunsets existing AUMFs, and specifies that future authorizations must meet the requirements in this legislation.
Title II: Arms Export Reform
- Requires an affirmative vote to approve certain types of arms sales. Under current law, all arms sales are approved automatically unless veto-proof majorities of both Houses of Congress pass a resolution to block the sale. This legislation requires Congress to affirmatively authorize foreign military sales and direct commercial sales of the most destructive and potentially destabilizing weapons that reach a certain monetary threshold.
- Air to ground munitions of $14,000,000 or more
- Tanks, armored vehicles, and related munitions of $14,000,000 or more
- Firearms and ammunition of $1,000,000 or more
- Fixed and rotary, manned and unmanned aircraft of $14,000,000 or more
- Services and training above a certain value of $14,000,000 or more
- Air to ground munitions of $14,000,000 or more
- Allows sales to be packaged together to minimize individual votes, but allows controversial items to be removed from a proposed package.
Title III: National Emergencies Reform
- Requires Congress to proactively approve emergency declarations. Currently, Congress cannot override a national emergency declaration without a veto-proof majority. This legislation requires Congress to approve (1) an emergency declaration and (2) specific emergency powers within 30 days.
- Prevents the President from exploiting a crisis to increase executive authority. Under existing law, the President can unlock a vast array of “emergency powers” by simply declaring a national emergency. This legislation requires that powers invoked must be related to nature of, and be used only to address, the declared emergency, and makes clear that powers may not be used to take actions Congress has considered and rejected.
- Ends “permanent” emergencies. There are currently 37 so-called “emergencies” on the books, some dating back to the 1970s. This legislation requires renewal of emergencies after one year to be approved by Congress, and imposes a 5-year total limit on states of emergency.
- Prohibits use of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) to impose tariffs, although it can still be used to bar imports entirely.
Read the bill here.