The U.S. Congress sent to President Barack Obama a $60 billion war-funding bill amid attacks on his Afghanistan policies newly provoked by leaked reports suggesting that Pakistan secretly aided aiding Taliban forces.
The House voted 308-114 yesterday to forward the measure to Obama for his signature. It cleared the Senate last week after lawmakers in that chamber deleted $23 billion in unrelated spending.
House Democratic leaders who had sought that additional money said they wouldn’t delay the long-stalled war funds any longer with the Pentagon warning of impending personnel furloughs.
“The reality is that time has run out,” said Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Norm Dicks, a Washington Democrat. “We’ve got to do it now.”
Representative James McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat opposed to the war, said lawmakers should have held up the funding “until we get some questions answered, until there is a full airing of all the stuff” raised by the leaked documents.
“It is a mistake to give this administration yet another blank check for this war,” McGovern said.
House Democratic leaders had to rely on Republicans to help produce a majority behind the bill amid the growing opposition within their own ranks to Obama’s war policies. The bill was supported by 148 Democrats and 160 Republicans; 102 Democrats and 12 Republicans voted against it.
The vote amounted to a surrender by House Democrats in their bid for approval of the unrelated spending, including $10 billion in aid to state governments to prevent thousands of teacher layoffs.
Senate Republicans insisted that those provisions be dropped. The White House also threatened to veto the plan because House Democrats wanted to finance it partly by cutting money for the Department of Education, including funds for a state grant program that is one of the agency’s priorities.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, a Wisconsin Democrat, called the bill “true to form,” saying, “virtually everything we’ve attempted to do this year to address the economic crisis and emergencies on the domestic side of the ledger have fallen by the wayside.”
Obey said he wouldn’t vote for the stripped-down bill because he doesn’t support the administration’s war policies. “I cannot look my constituents in the eye and say that this operation will hurt our enemies more than us,” he said.
Obama said yesterday the leaked war documents “don’t reveal any issues that haven’t already informed our public debate on Afghanistan -- indeed, they point to the same challenges that led me to conduct an extensive review of our policy last fall.”
The measure sent to Obama, requested by the Pentagon in February, includes $33 billion for the president’s plan announced last year to send 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan.
Another $13 billion would pay for a Veterans Affairs decision to expand the number of ailments presumed to be linked to use of the defoliant Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. Lawmakers said they expected more than 86,000 veterans or their survivors to be eligible for compensation.
The measure also would provide $5 billion for disaster assistance.
Republicans complained the bill was identical to one passed by the Senate two months ago. “The delay in passing this legislation was caused by one thing and only one thing -- the House Democrat majority’s continuing and unwavering appetite for spending,” said Representative Jerry Lewis of California, the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates had warned lawmakers he might have to begin furloughing employees next month if the money wasn’t approved.
A series of attempts by war critics to attach provisions to the legislation targeting Obama’s Afghanistan policies failed following his threat to veto any legislation that would undermine his role as commander in chief.
The amendment that came closest to passing would have required the administration to submit a report explaining how it intends to end U.S. involvement in the Afghan conflict. The administration has said it plans to begin bringing troops home in July 2011, depending on conditions in Afghanistan. It hasn’t specified when the withdrawal would be complete.
The amendment won the support of most House Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, though with 162 votes it fell well short of the majority in the 435-member chamber needed for approval.
Afghan war costs will top those in Iraq this year for the first time since the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003. Costs this year will total more than those in all but two years of former President George W. Bush’s administration. The measure will bring total war expenses to $1.1 trillion.
The bill is H.R. 4899.