The House voted Friday to bar President Clinton from sending U.S. ground troops to enforce a Bosnian peace agreement unless Congress approves, defying White House warnings that the action could undermine prospects for reaching a settlement over the next few days.
The legislation, which would deny funds to send any American forces to Bosnia until Congress has specifically approved funding for the operation, was approved by a vote of 243 to 171.
The bill appears to have little chance of approval by the Senate, and the House vote was substantially short of the two-thirds required to override a presidential veto, which the White House has promised if the legislation is eventually passed. The margin of victory was also considerably closer than previous congressional votes expressing disapproval of the administration’s policy in the Balkans.
But the vote was the strongest action taken so far by either house to challenge Clinton’s Bosnia policy and indicated how far many Republicans, and some Democrats, are willing to go in opposing the president on the most important foreign policy initiative he has undertaken since Republicans took control of Congress last January.
The House vote came just as American mediators prepared for a final push to bring Balkan peace talks in Ohio to a successful conclusion by early next week.
State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns described the House vote as a “most unwelcome” development at a “defining moment” in the negotiations for a comprehensive peace agreement for Bosnia.
While both houses have repeatedly passed non-binding warnings to the administration that it must seek approval of Congress before committing U.S. troops to an international peacekeeping mission in the Balkans, neither has previously approved binding legislation to block troops from being sent.
The last time that Congress attempted to cut off funds for a military operation was two years ago when it set a deadline for terminating U.S. participation in a United Nations peacekeeping operation in Somalia in order to enforce a timetable for withdrawal.
The administration has said it plans to send about 20,000 U.S. troops to join a NATO-led peacekeeping force after a Bosnian peace agreement is signed, at a cost of about $1.5 billion to this country.
In a letter to House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., earlier this week, Clinton said he will seek a congressional expression of support before he deploys the troops but added that some support personnel may be sent in advance of any vote.