With their ranks infused with antiwar sentiment, Democrats controlling the House were struggling Thursday for a way to finance President Obama’s Afghanistan troop surge and also salvage their dwindling jobs agenda.
Pressure to act before the Fourth of July had House leaders, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, scrambling to find the mix of war money and stimulus money that could attract Democratic votes Thursday evening.
The House measure is anchored by money for the war, and Democrats were likely to add funding for other programs not connected to military needs.
The delays eroded any leverage House Democrats might have had in their dealings with the Senate and the White House, which were pressing the House to accept an almost $60 billion Senate measure that blends the war-funding request with money for disaster-aid accounts, foreign aid and disability benefits for Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange.
Even if passed, the House measure has been promised a cold shoulder from Senate Republicans, who have the votes to filibuster it if the measure goes to the Senate. The prospect of further deadlock and delays in providing troop funds had Democrats such as Earl Pomeroy of North Dakota pressing House leaders simply to accept the bipartisan Senate measure so it could be signed promptly by Mr. Obama.
“There’s a difference between passing and enacting,” Mr. Pomeroy said. “And it’s time we enact something.”
But top Democrats, including Appropriations Committee Chairman David R. Obey of Wisconsin were pressing to add $10 billion to help revenue-starved school boards avoid teacher layoffs and $5 billion to address a shortfall of Pell Grants funding for low-income college students.
Black lawmakers were pressing for add-ons of their own, including a $1 billion summer jobs initiative and money to pay discrimination claims by black farmers against the Agriculture Department. There also was money to pay claims related to the government’s management and accounting of more than 300,000 trust accounts of American Indians.
But Republicans supportive of the Afghanistan effort were promisingto vote against the war funding if it was accompanied by more non-war spending, which meant Democrats would have to pass it with the support of antiwar lawmakers.
“It’s become more and more evident to me that there isn’t a clearly defined mission,” Mr. Yarmuth said.
But Republicans supportive of the war effort were promising to vote against the bill because of the non-war additions.
“To be using the Afghan issue, the war fighters, the military as pawns … it’s like no respect at all for the military,” said Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon of California, top Republican on the Armed Services Committee. “This should have been passed a long time ago.”
The GOP opposition came despite almost $12 billion in spending cuts to finance the new initiatives, including money cut from last year’s stimulus measure and $500 million cut from the Education Department’s showcase Race to the Top grant program - with the latter move earning a public rebuke from the White House.
“We do not believe that taking money out of that important investment makes any sense at all. The president’s been clear with Congress that that doesn’t make any sense at all,” said press secretary Robert Gibbs.