June 24, 1997
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The House voted Tuesday to cut off the U.S. troop deployment to Bosnia after June 1998 and lawmakers voiced doubt that President Clinton has leveled with Americans about the duration and cost of the mission.
The White House indicated Clinton would likely veto the measure if it reaches his desk.
In a partial victory for Clinton, the House rejected a measure that would have cut off funding by the end of this year, six months before the U.S. troops are scheduled to pull out of Bosnia.
Essentially, the 278-148 vote for an amendment by Reps. Stephen Buyer, R-Ind., and Ike Skelton, D-Mo., enshrined the status quo but sent the message that lawmakers would have little patience if Clinton tries to extend the Bosnia peace mission yet again.
The vote, an amendment to a pending defense authorization bill, also signaled European allies that Congress wants them to carry a greater burden of policing a trouble spot much closer to their doorstep.
``Can they do nothing by themselves?'' Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., said of NATO's European members. ``When we're talking about problems 100 to 200 miles from their border, this group of wealthy nations acts like a bunch of teen-agers that hides behind the United States.''
U.S. forces make up more than a third of the 31,000 NATO troops in and around Bosnia as part of the peace Stabilization Force; 8,000 U.S. troops are in Bosnia itself; 2,900 others support the mission in neighboring countries.
Those voting to limit the Bosnia mission included liberal Democrats who have long argued for Europe to pay more of its way in defense, Republicans critical of Clinton's activist foreign policy, and members who fear the Bosnia mission is open-ended.
``Will there be peace in Bosnia? Not in our lifetime,'' said Rep. Randy ``Duke'' Cunningham, R-Calif.
Lawmakers had nothing but praise for a military mission that has resulted in no U.S. fatalities due to hostile fire and that has ended a brutal ethnic war that claimed some 250,000 lives. But the Republican majority, with some Democratic allies, vented frustration over the skyrocketing cost of the Bosnia commitment, estimated to reach $7.3 billion by mid-1998.
``The time is long overdue for Congress to express its will on behalf of the American people,'' said Rep. Floyd Spence, R-S.C., chairman of the House National Security Committee. ``It is important that the Clinton administration be held accountable for the nation's foreign policy.''
Spence pointed to recent comments by Clinton that seemed to back away from his earlier commitment to a June 30, 1998, deadline for the Stabilization Force mission. Clinton last month told his counterparts in Europe that the United States would not ``disappear in a year'' from Bosnia and said he wanted to ``stop talking about what date we're leaving on.''
Spence also criticized the administration for repeatedly underestimating the cost of the mission.
European allies have said repeatedly they would pull out of Bosnia if U.S. troops leave.
The president's defenders in the House said the June 1998 funding cutoff could provoke a resumption of fighting.
``Why would anyone in this chamber want to jeopardize the safety of our troops by mandating a date of withdrawal,'' asked Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., ranking Democrat on the House International Relations Committee. ``We are the key to stability in Bosnia.''
A senior Clinton administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the administration opposed even the milder version of the Bosnia funding cutoff that passed the House.
``Even with a date of June '98 we have to consider that a veto is possible,'' the official said. ``We're not in favor of any legislation that would mandate a date of withdrawal. It seriously restricts our flexiblity.''
Rep. Ronald Dellums, D-Calif., ranking Democrat on the House National Security Committee, said there might be a way to modify the Buyer-Skelton measure to make it acceptable to the White House.