The House of Representatives yesterday OK'd an additional $33 billion for the war in Afghanistan, sending the measure to President Obama for his signature. A record 102 Democrats, more than a third of the 255 Democrats in the House, voted against the bill, compared to 32 who opposed a similar war funding bill last year.
It reflected growing unease over the Afghanistan war, fueled this week by the WikiLeaks disclosure of 92,000 classified military files painting a grim picture of the situation there.
In addition, many Democrats said they were upset that the final bill dropped funding to prevent teacher, police and firefighter layoffs and address other domestic needs.
Among the Democrats voting against the bill was Wisconsin Rep. David Obey, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee. As Appropriations chair, he said, he was obligated to bring the spending bill to the floor for a vote. But, alluding to the WikiLeaks documents' portrayal of a floundering military venture, causing civilian casualties that alienate Afghanis, with top U.S. ally Pakistan also helping the Taliban, Obey said, "I cannot look at my constituents in the eye and say that this operation will hurt our enemies more than it will hurt us."
Obey, who is retiring from the House at the end of the year, told his colleagues he was voting his "conscience" to indicate "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."
"We have appropriated over $1 trillion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to date. ... These wars have been paid for with borrowed money," Obey said. "But ... virtually everything we have attempted to do this year to address the economic crisis and emergencies on the domestic side of the ledger have fallen by the wayside."
On July 1 the House had approved a supplemental war funding bill that included a $10 billion Education Jobs Fund aimed at averting thousands of teacher layoffs around the country. It also provided funding for police, firefighter and other public safety jobs, Pell Grants for low-income college students, and other domestic needs. (See more information here.) Obey had been among the chief advocates for these measures.
But when the bill moved to the Senate, Republicans blocked action until the domestic spending was eliminated. Finally, House leaders, bowing to administration pressure, agreed to drop the domestic measures from the bill.
House Democrats say they will introduce separate bills to fund the teacher jobs and other needs. In an opinion piece in the San Jose Mercury News today, Rep. Mike Honda, D-Calif., who voted no on the war funding yesterday, called the failure to fund teacher jobs a "tragedy," and said Congress "can and should" come up with the funds "without cutting even $1 in existing programs."
Citing the crisis facing state education budgets around the country, putting an estimated 300,000 teacher jobs in jeopardy for this fall, Honda wrote, "If this does not qualify as an emergency, I do not know what will. How Senate Republicans can justify blocking $10 billion that would have saved 100,000 teaching jobs is beyond me."
During the House debate yesterday, Massachusetts Democrat Jim McGovern said the U.S. situation in Afghanistan depicted by the Wikleaks documents "is not a pretty picture."
"Things are really ugly over there," McGovern said. "I think the White House continues to underestimate the depth of antiwar sentiment here."
Earlier this month, McGovern had co-sponsored an amendment requiring the president to provide a withdrawal plan, including an end date, by April 4 next year. The amendment was defeated, but not overwhelmingly, and a substantial majority of House Democrats voted for the pullout timetable - 153, versus 98 who voted no, with 4 not voting. The yes votes included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who because of her position usually does not vote on bills, and other top Democrats.
"Our country is on her knees in terms of needs," Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., who voted for the withdrawal timetable, told Politico at the time. "This is money, this is cash, going for what?"
The final House vote on the war funding bill yesterday was 308-114, with 160 Republicans and 148 Democrats voting yes, and 102 Democrats and 12 Republicans voting no.
In addition to $33 billion for the Afghanistan war, the bill provides $6 billion for State Department aid programs in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Haiti, $5 billion for FEMA, and $13 billion in benefits for Vietnam veterans exposed to the defoliant Agent Orange.
Photo: Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, said he was voting his conscience in opposing the war-funding bill. Above, Obey announces on May 5 that he intends to retire at the end of his term this year. (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)