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Troop-Support Calculus

June 16, 2009 - by Donny Shaw

By some bizarre turn of events, House Republicans are expected today to vote almost unanimously against a bill to fund the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their opposition to the bill, coupled with the House progressives’ opposition to funding the wars in general, has thrown passage of the bill, and funding for U.S. troops overseas, in doubt.

You may remember that former Republican presidential candidate John McCain used then-Senator Barack Obama’s vote against a war-funding bill that did not contain a withdrawal timeline as evidence that he did not support the troops. McCain made the claim several times during the presidential debates, even though Obama had voted in favor of a different war-funding that did include a withdrawal timeline. It was clear then to those paying attention then and it’s clear now: voting against a war-funding bill doesn’t necessarily mean that you are a troop abandoner. It usually means that there is some other element in the bill, besides the actual money for the troops, that you oppose. Either you think the bill will still pass without your vote, or you can force the bill to be rewritten to incorporate the changes you are demanding.

That’s the case with House Republicans today. The Hill reports:

For years, Republicans portrayed the bills funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as matters of national security and accused Democrats who voted against them of voting against the troops. […]

But Republicans say this year is different. Democrats have included a $5 billion increase for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to help aid nations affected by the global financial crisis. Republicans say that is reason enough to vote against the entire $106 billion spending bill and are certain voters will understand.

There’s something else Republicans also oppose in the bill, and they’re using it to turn the whole thing on its head, saying that a vote against the bill is a vote for the troops. CQ reports:

[House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH)], who expressed concern that the bill does not block the possible release of controversial detainee photos, said “a no vote is the way to go” for anyone “serious about protecting our troops.”

Boehner here is referring to the Lieberman-Graham amendment, which was added to the bill by the Senate, but ultimately taken out in the conference committee negotiations under pressure from progressives and civil libertarians. The amendment would have blocked the public disclosed of any photograph “taken between September 11, 2001 and January 22, 2009 relating to the treatment of individuals engaged, captured, or detained after September 11, 2001, by the Armed Forces of the United States in operations outside of the United States,” even if the Freedom of Information Act required that they be disclosed. Salon’s Glenn Greenwald has more background on the amendment, including President Obama’s position on it.

I should point out that there are two other non-war related provisions in the bill that are playing into all of this – $7.7 billion in flu preparedness money (Republicans stripped $1 billion in flu money from the supplemental, calling it extraneous pork) and “cash for clunkers.” Congress Daily notes that cash for clunkers, an auto-market stimulus proposal attached to the bill in order to bring a few straggling midwestern Democrats and Republicans on board, might get stripped out by the Senate:

If the House passes the measure, it will go to the Senate, where Republicans may try to strike a provision from the supplemental that would provide $1 billion for the first year of a program that would give drivers a voucher for up to $4,500 to buy or lease a fuel-efficient car if they trade in a less-efficient vehicle.

Under Senate rules, Senators may strike provisions of a conference report that were not in the bill passed by either chamber. Senate Republicans could raise a point of order on the floor to strike the language, which would take 60 votes to waive.

Senate Budget ranking member Judd Gregg said last week the “cash for clunkers” provision of the bill could be subject to the rule, but his office would not confirm that he would raise a point of order against the provision.

The House vote on the supplemental has officially been postponed for the day, meaning that Democratic leaders think they don’t have the votes to pass it. Lots going on here; we’ll keep you updated.

UPDATE: Obama has already stated that he intends to block the release of detainee torture photos, even if the Graham-Lieberman amendment isn’t passed into law. The Hill today is reporting that Obama is considering the use of an executive order to block the photos from being made public. No word on whether Obama Administration’s restated commitment to barring the release of the photos will be enough to convince House Republicans to vote for the supplemental.

While I’m on the subject, here’s a CQ piece on how there is no proof that the release of detainee photos actually leads to more military deaths.

And here’s another piece from CQ on why some Texas Democrats, not coming from the progressive angle of defunding the wars, might vote against the supplemental:

Texas Democrats threatened to withhold their votes for a $105.9 billion war-funding measure Tuesday, as the legislation sped toward consideration on the House floor and party leaders worked to quash the insurrection.

“The great majority of the Texas delegation are against the supplemental until we get some relief,” Rep. Ruben Hinojosa said.

The revolt centers on a dispute over how funds from the economic stimulus law (PL 111-5) are spent on public schools in the state. And it comes at a time when the Texans’ votes could be critical for adopting the conference report on the supplemental spending bill (HR 2346 — H Rept 111-151).

The Texans say they are upset that the state legislature and governor diverted money intended for schools —particularly schools that serve low-income students — to the state’s “rainy day” fund.

UPDATE 2: The supplemental conference report went back to the floor at around 5 pm and it has now officially been passed (6:40 pm).

For now, here are the vote details. Five Republicans voted for the bill and 32 Democrats voted against it.

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