House approves $37 billion war-funding bill

The war in Afghanistan began on Oct. 7, 2001, as the U.S. military launched an operation in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S. The war continues today.
By Perry Bacon Jr. and Ben Pershing
Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The House on Tuesday approved spending an additional $37 billion on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, overcoming the opposition of some Democrats who have concluded that the Afghan conflict is unwinnable.

The funding bill, which passed 308 to 114, had stalled for two months as a growing number of Democratic lawmakers objected to the continuation of the war in Afghanistan and insisted that spending on the conflicts be accompanied by funding for domestic initiatives, to help Americans suffering from the recession. The domestic funding was stripped from the final bill.

The legislation was passed by the Senate last week in a voice vote, and it now goes to President Obama for his signature.

The disclosure Sunday of more than 91,000 secret documents about the war had little impact on the debate; most of the 102 Democrats who voted against the funding had already expressed doubts about the war in Afghanistan and Obama's decision last December to add 30,000 troops there. They were joined by 12 Republicans.

The number of Democrats who opposed the funding was more than double the number who voted down a similar measure last year, illustrating the growing divide between Obama and members of his party about Afghanistan.

"What has changed in my mind is I am so discouraged at the chances of our commitment in Afghanistan succeeding that I think it's time to say, no more," said Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.).

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates had urged Congress to approve the legislation, saying the money will be needed soon to support troops in the field. Along with funding for operations by the Defense and State departments in Afghanistan and Iraq, the $58 billion measure includes $13.3 billion to provide payments to Vietnam War veterans exposed to Agent Orange and about $3 billion for relief efforts in Haiti.

"I am confident General Petraeus and the troops will succeed in Afghanistan, if given the time, space and resources they need," said Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon (Calif.), the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, who backed the war funding.

When the House passed an earlier version of the legislation this month, it contained a variety of domestic spending measures, including $10 billion for a fund to avoid layoffs of teachers, $5 billion for Pell Grants for low-income college students and $1 billion for a program to help teenagers and young adults get summer jobs.

Senate Republicans, joined by 11 Democrats, stripped the money last week and instead passed the pared-down bill that the House approved Tuesday.

With the spending removed, Democrats likely lost any chance to grant Obama's request for billions of dollars in fresh aid to state governments before Congress leaves for its August recess. Democratic aides said House leaders have no plans to include the money in another bill before the House adjourns Friday for the summer.

Neither the domestic funding nor the Afghanistan money was debated intensely Tuesday, as Democratic leaders were eager to move on from the long-stalled bill. The House spent less than an hour debating Afghanistan, even in the wake of the leaked documents.

Lawmakers spent several hours on a measure by a pair of war opponents, Reps. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) and Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio), to remove all U.S. troops from Pakistan, but that was easily defeated.

The combination of removing the domestic spending from the bill and authorizing billions more for Afghanistan, however, caused a highly unusual move: the official sponsor of a piece of legislation voting against it. Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.), chairman of the Appropriations Committee, announced before the vote that he could no longer support the war funding.

"I have a double, and conflicting, obligation," said Obey, who is retiring at the end of this year after four decades on Capitol Hill. "As chairman, I have the obligation to bring this supplemental before the House to allow the institution to work its will. But I also have the obligation to my conscience to indicate -- by my individual vote -- my profound skepticism that this action will accomplish much more than to serve as a recruiting incentive for those who most want to do us ill."

Staff writer Lori Montgomery contributed to this report.

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