House appropriators want to reinforce Congress' importance in authorizing military intervention in the Middle East, even if so far lawmakers have done little on the issue.
On Tuesday, the House Appropriations Committee inserted language into its fiscal 2016 defense budget bill emphasizing that "Congress has a constitutional duty to debate and determine whether or not to authorize the use of military force" against Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria.
The amendment — sponsored by Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif. — passed by a 29 to 22 margin with most of the Republican leaders on the committee opposed to the measure as off-topic and politically problematic for the appropriations bill.
But Lee called the provision an important statement by Congress about its role in matters of "war and peace," given the lack of action from lawmakers thus far on military operations entering their 10th month.
"It's way past time to reassert Congress' role in war making," she said. "We can't allow this war to go on without a full and robust debate for the use of military force against ISIL. We can't allow this policy of endless wars to continue."
ISIL has been used as an alternative reference to the Islamic State group.
White House officials have repeatedly emphasized their legal authority to go after Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria under war power authorizations approved by Congress in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
But President Obama has also asked for a new military force authorization from Congress to show political unity in the new Middle East fight.
In February, Obama sent a draft force authorization for congressional review on the issue, but so far neither chamber has made meaningful progress.
House leaders have said the president needs to try again with a new draft, blasting both the draft language and the White House strategy in the region.
Earlier on Tuesday, the House panel rejected attempts by Lee to repeal the 2001 and 2002 military force authorizations that provide legal basis for operations against terrorist organizations like the Islamic State, with lawmakers arguing it could imperil operations overseas.
But lawmakers said they had fewer concerns with the "sense of Congress" amendment, saying it could spur much-needed debate on the issue.
Whether the provision will remain in the legislation remains unclear. The language must survive a full House vote later this month and conference committee work later this summer before the budget bill is finalized.