"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

WikiLeaks Controversy Hovers, But U.S. Congress Passes 60 Billion Dollar War Funding Bill

In Uncategorized on July 28, 2010 at 12:36 pm

A young girl watches a US soldier on security watch beside an irrigation canal during a military operation, in Kandahar, Afghanistan, Wednesday, July 28. The leaked WikiLeaks documents barely made a dent in Congress’s decision to continue funding a surge of US forces into Afghanistan. The measure passed the House 308 to 114. Rodrigo Abd/AP

Oldspeak: ” ‘We grow up in a controlled society, where we are told that when one person kills another person, that is murder, but when the government kills a hundred thousand, that is patriotism.’ -Howard Zinn. More of your tax dollars flowing to the Taliban.  The madness continues unabated. ‘War is a drug.’ -Chris Hedges”

From Gail Russell Chaddock @ The Christian Science Monitor:

In the end, the leaked WikiLeaks documents barely made a dent in Congress’s decision to continue funding a surge of US forces into Afghanistan. The measure passed the House 308 to 114, with 148 Democrats and 160 Republicans voting in favor.

The margin surprised leaders in both parties, who had expected more fallout from Sunday’s release of some 92,000 classified documents that amplified the difficulties of the nine-year war in Afghanistan.

House Republican leader John Boehner urged his caucus to back the war funding bill, despite the controversy over the leaked documents, which could have given the minority party cover to vote no. “We could have played politics with this vote and forced Democrats to come up with the votes. But our leadership told us to play it straight. We did the right thing,” said Rep. Lamar Smith (R) of Texas, after the vote Tuesday.

With antiwar sentiment running high in the House Democratic Caucus, majority leader Steny Hoyer urged his colleagues to take up doubts on the war in a separate debate at another time. The need for funds was too urgent to risk defeating the war-funding bill, he said.

“I think the president of the United States made a mission that is a doable mission,” he told reporters in a briefing on Tuesday. “Now, we may want to reconsider that in a new Congress. But the fact is those troops are there now, and the money, as we have been told by the Pentagon, will be depleted as of the 7th of August.”

Still, the vote was wrenching for antiwar Democrats. Rep. David Obey (D) of Wisconsin, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, had added $10 billion to help prevent teacher layoffs as a sweetener to other Democrats with doubts about the war. But the Senate voted to strip most of the additional domestic spending. On Tuesday, Representative Obey told House members that he was bringing the war-funding bill to the floor with reluctance.

”I have a double, and conflicting, obligation. As chairman, I have the obligation to bring this supplemental before the House to allow the institution to work its will,” he said on the floor Tuesday. “But I also have the obligation to my conscience to indicate – by my individual vote – 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.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi did not whip this vote, calling it a vote of conscience and the most difficult vote she has taken to the floor since becoming speaker in 2007.

On July 1, 162 House members, including Speaker Pelosi, voted to support the McGovern-Obey-Jones amendment to the House version of the bill, calling for a timetable and plan for the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan.

“In light of [the WikiLeaks documents released after that], in light of all the questions that have been raised, it seems to me that it is inappropriate for us to vote yes for a blank check for this administration to do what it wants on Afghanistan,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D) of Massachusetts, a sponsor of the amendment, during Tuesday’s floor debate.

Twelve Republicans and 102 Democrats voted against the war-funding measure.

Also on Tuesday, the House overwhelmingly rejected a privileged resolution (not requiring leadership to take to the floor) introduced by Reps. Dennis Kucinich (D) of Ohio and Ron Paul (R) of Texas to direct President Obama to remove US forces from Pakistan. The sponsors cited the WikiLeaks report as evidence that the US presence in Afghanistan is counterproductive and that Pakistan is an unreliable ally. The vote failed 38 to 372.

“The Democrats realize that Afghanistan is now President Obama’s war, and it will take a lot for them to be critical of the war or take any kind of action that threatens the funding,” says Julian Zelizer, a congressional historian at Princeton University in New Jersey. “But as we learn more about these [WikiLeaks] documents and the war, it is going to get more difficult for Democrats to contain this information.”

From Brain Faler @ Bloomberg News:

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.

Republican Help

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 wassupported 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’s Opposition

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.

Republican Complaints

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 RepresentativeJerry 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.

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