Ellen C. Collier
The nineteen year history of the War Powers Resolution2 has provided a varied experience that has left the statute as controversial as ever. The issues raised by this experience have become increasingly serious. Early problems concerned whether Presidents were complying with the consultation and reporting requirements of the resolution. Later the effectiveness and appropriateness of the War Powers Resolution became an issue. Finally, in the lead up to the war against Iraq, it became clear that the issue was not the War Powers Resolution but the meaning of the war powers under the Constitution itself.
It is not possible to say flatly either that Presidents have complied with the War Powers Resolution or that they have not. Since passage of the War Powers Resolution Presidents have complied to the extent of submitting approximately twenty-five reports to Congress under the resolution. But the reports, except for the one on the Mayaguez seizure, have not cited section 4(a)(1), indicating that forces have been introduced into hostilities, which would trigger the 60-day time limit. Even in the Mayaguez crisis, President Ford waited until the action was over before reporting, so the question of a time limit was moot. It has become clear that Presidents who wish to take military action independently of Congress are unlikely to cite section 4(a)(1) and thus trigger the 60-day time limit.
Presidents failed to report at all a number of deployments of U.S. Armed Forces into potential hostilities or other situations in which the War Powers Resolution required reports. Most of these deployments were short-lived and uncontroversial, however, and Congress closely monitored the other, longer lasting situations. Compliance with the consultation requirement was the first issue raised in experience with the War Powers Resolution and has been a persistent issue since. Presidents contend they have complied with the War Powers Resolution by calling in congressional leaders to brief them before commencing an operation. Because such meetings were held after the President made the decision and gave orders to launch an operation, Members of Congress have not considered this adequate