House OKs funds for U.S. wars amid a partisan battle
With the GOP firmly against the bill, the White House lobbied its own party hard.
WASHINGTON - A divided House yesterday approved a $105.9 billion emergency spending bill to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and help curb flu outbreaks.
The vote was 226-202, with only five Republicans voting for the bill and 32 Democrats opposing it. Many lawmakers in both parties were uneasy.
Several Democrats wanted President Obama to provide a clearer strategy for Afghanistan. Republicans protested aid to the International Monetary Fund. Members of both parties were skittish about the lack of an explicit ban on releasing detainee abuse photos.
Democratic leaders, with some heavy lobbying from the White House, won, though, reminding colleagues about the inclusion of some sweeteners such as a "cash for clunkers" auto program, funds to help provide air service in rural areas, and housing aid for victims of 2005's Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
White House aides worked the halls during the hours before the vote, and chief of staff Rahm Emanuel called some lawmakers personally.
Rep. Peter DeFazio (D., Ore.), who was undecided and wound up voting yes, said he talked to Emanuel by phone for about five minutes as Obama's top aide explained the administration's strategy in the war on terror.
The lobbying worked, and the bill now goes to a similarly split Senate. It would provide $79.9 billion in military funding for the wars, $10.4 billion in diplomatic and humanitarian aid to Afghanistan and other countries in the region, and $7.7 billion to help control the flu pandemic. The measure is to provide funds through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year.
Those provisions were not the flash points, though. Instead, Democratic leaders found they had to pressure colleagues who are wary of an Afghanistan war that appears to them to have no end and no exit strategy.
Fifty-one Democrats voted against a similar funding bill last month, and despite a frantic lobbying effort by Democratic leaders, most wouldn't budge yesterday. "I don't vote to fund the troops in these situations, ever," said Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D., Calif.).
"How do we support the troops?" added Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D., Ohio). "We support them by bringing them home. That's what we should be appropriating money for, not to keep them there."
Some Democrats were assuaged by the bill's guarantee that Obama must provide reports early next year detailing the U.S. policy objectives and whether Afghanistan and Pakistan are helping to implement that policy. Others saw enough other provisions in the bill that they could go along.
The view of Rep. Betty Sutton (D., Ohio) was typical. She was concerned about the lack of an Afghanistan exit strategy, saying: "Our brave soldiers need to know we have a plan and we're looking out for them." However, she liked the $1 billion for the "cash for clunkers" program - which would pay people for trading in old gas-guzzling cars for new, more-efficient vehicles - as well as other provisions, and voted yes.
Republicans had different objections, notably that what should have been a war-funding bill had become loaded with nonemergency items.
Lawmakers added $5 billion for the IMF, fulfilling a pledge Obama made in April at the G-20 meeting of foreign leaders, and that ignited a Republican firestorm.
Many Republicans, and some Democrats, also remained concerned that the bill did not bar the release of photos of abused detainees at U.S.-run prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Obama tried to defuse that controversy with a letter last week, as well as some personal campaigning, assuring members of Congress that he would not release the pictures.
How They Voted
Representatives from the Philadelphia area who voted for the bill were John Adler (D., N.J.), Robert E. Andrews (D., N.J.), Robert A. Brady (D., Pa.), Chaka Fattah (D., Pa.), Tim Holden (D., Pa.),
Patrick Murphy (D., Pa.), Allyson Y. Schwartz (D., Pa.), and Joe Sestak (D., Pa.).
Voting against the bill were Michael N. Castle (R., Del.), Charles W. Dent (R., Pa.) Jim Gerlach (R., Pa.), Frank A. LoBiondo (R., N.J.), Joseph R. Pitts (R., Pa.), and Christopher H. Smith (R., N.J.).