House passes pared-down measure to fund war
WASHINGTON (AP) – Months behind schedule and stripped of money for domestic stimulus programs, legislation to fund the troop surge in Afghanistan was sent to President Barack Obama on Tuesday after disgruntled Democrats failed to block it.
Democratic leaders had to rely on Republican support to pass the almost $59 billion measure to fund Obama’s additional 30,000 troops in Afghanistan and other programs. The final vote was 308-114. Twelve Republicans and 102 Democrats opposed it.
Pentagon leaders have warned that money to fund the troops could run out as early as Aug. 7, prompting the House, which is leaving at the end of the week for its August recess, to accept the pared-down Senate version of the legislation.
Last week the Senate rejected a larger, House-favored bill that would have included billions of dollars to help keep teachers on the job, provide aid for college students and enhance border security.
With the new war spending, the total amount of money that Congress has allotted for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan surpasses $1 trillion.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, D-Wis., said he was torn between his obligation to bring the bill to the floor and his “profound skepticism” that the money would lead to a successful conclusion of the war in Afghanistan.
Even if there were greater confidence in the Afghan government, he said, “it would likely take so long it will obliterate our ability to make the kinds of long-term investments in our own country that are so desperately needed.”
Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., cited recently released classified documents he said revealed some of the corruption and incompetence of the Afghanistan government.
“We’re told we can’t extend unemployment or pay to keep cops on the beat or teachers in the classroom, but we’re asked to borrow another $33 billion for nation-building in Afghanistan,” he said. “I think we need to do more nation-building here at home.”
Obama urged passage of the war-funding bill, saying in a Rose Garden statement that it was needed “to ensure that our troops have the resources they need and that we’re able to do what’s necessary for our national security.”
The president also addressed the unauthorized release of the sensitive documents – thousands of battlefield reports – saying he was concerned they “could potentially jeopardize individuals or operations.”
Republicans in turn chided Democrats for delaying for months before ending up with the same bill the Senate passed in May. “We’ve been through all of this wrangling, and for what? All we’ve created is more uncertainty for our troops in the field, more uncertainty for the Pentagon, and it’s all unnecessary,” House Republican leader John Boehner said at a news conference.
The president requested the emergency funding last February. After the Senate passed it in May, the House on July 1 approved its own version tacking on more than $20 billion in domestic spending. The Senate last week rejected that approach, falling 14 votes short of what was needed to break a GOP-led filibuster.
The bill includes more than $33.5 billion for the additional 30,000 troops in Afghanistan and to pay for other Pentagon operational expenses, $5.1 billion to replenish the Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster relief fund, $6.2 billion for State Department aid programs in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Haiti, and $13.4 billion in benefits for Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange.
In addition to stripping out money for teachers and student aid, the final bill does not provide more than $4 billion requested by the administration to finance settlements of long-standing lawsuits against the government, including $1.2 billion to remedy discrimination by the Agriculture Department against black farmers and $3.4 billion for mismanaging Indian trust funds.
“We have a moral and legal responsibility to settle those claims,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., adding that he was “very disappointed” Senate Republicans did not go along with paying the settlements, although the costs would not have added to the federal deficit.