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House Passes War Funds As 51 Democrats Dissent

By Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 15, 2009

The House passed a bill yesterday that would provide more than $96 billion in funding for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq through Sept. 30, as President Obama had requested, but a bloc of 51 Democrats opposed it.

Democratic opponents are accusing Obama of the same charge they leveled against his predecessor: escalating a war without a clear exit strategy.

The bill passed 368 to 60, with 200 Democrats and all but nine Republicans supporting it.

Democratic opponents did not attack Obama by name, but some likened his increase of 21,000 troops and billions of dollars to win the war in Afghanistan to President George W. Bush's efforts in Iraq.

"When George Bush was president, I was on this floor saying we need an exit strategy," said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.). "The same applies with Afghanistan. I'm tired of wars with no deadlines, no exits and no ends."

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), who also voted against the bill, said that "this bill simply amplifies and extends failed policies."

The vote came the same day that another part of Obama's security agenda -- closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba -- drew criticism from his party. The Democratic-controlled Senate Appropriations Committee passed a bill that includes $50 million to close the prison, as Obama promised during the campaign.

But the measure bans Obama from using the money to bring any of the 241 detainees to the United States, a move that administration officials have suggested might be necessary to get other countries to accept prisoners. The measure also requires the administration present Congress with a detailed plan on closing the prison before the money can be used.

Senate Democratic leaders criticized Obama for not having presented such a plan, as Republicans continue to highlight the issue and accuse the administration of putting Americans at risk with its proposal to bring potential terrorists to the United States.

Obama defended his strategy for Afghanistan in a meeting late last month with the Congressional Progressive Caucus, a group of more than 70 liberal members, many of whom opposed the funding bill. But most House Democrats indicated they want to give Obama's strategy a chance to succeed.

"The questions that were not being asked are now being asked," said Rep. Tom Perriello (D-Va.), who voted for the supplemental funding.

House Democratic leaders refused to back an effort by McGovern and other antiwar legislators that would require Obama to provide Congress a detailed exit strategy for Afghanistan by the end of the year.

Some Democratic senators, particularly Russell Feingold (Wis.), have also criticized Obama's proposal, but the funding is expected to be approved there, possibly as soon as next week. Republicans have said they might oppose increased funding for the International Monetary Fund, a request that has been inserted in the Senate version.

Some liberal activist groups, such as MoveOn.org, which sharply criticized Bush's efforts to increase troops in Iraq two years ago, have said little about Obama's troop increase in Afghanistan.

The failed effort to amend the House bill illustrated the ineffectiveness of some of the House's most liberal members. While the caucus of conservative Democrats known as the Blue Dogs has effectively blocked some of Obama's proposals, such as a ban on assault weapons, liberal Democrats have struggled with two of their biggest priorities: establishing a commission to investigate allegations of violations by the Bush administration; and greater reductions of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

McGovern said he remains concerned about Obama's policy in Afghanistan but is not sure exactly what he and others could do.

"I like Barack Obama; I thank God he's president; I think he will be a great president," McGovern said. "But sometimes great presidents make mistakes."

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