- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Republicans came to President Obama’s rescue Tuesday, providing him the votes needed for quick passage of a $59 billion emergency war-spending bill to fund his 30,000 Afghanistan troop surge.

The bill cleared the House by a vote of 308-114, or well more than the two-thirds needed under expedited rules. It now heads to Mr. Obama for his signature after House Democratic leaders acceded to the administration’s demand for action and gave up their hopes of tacking on billions of dollars in new stimulus spending.

Handing Mr. Obama another victory just before approving the war spending, the House overwhelmingly rejected a measure introduced by Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich, Ohio Democrat, to remove any U.S. armed forces operating in Pakistan.

“Denying terrorists a safe haven in Iraq and Afghanistan is critical to the safety and security of our country. As our troops continue their fight, it is imperative that Congress continue to provide the resources they need and support their mission,” said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican.

Lawmakers were not swayed by the recent publication of a trove of leaked documents depicting a tough slog in the war in Afghanistan.

But it took the strength of Republican votes to deliver the money — one of just a few times Mr. Obama has had to rely on his political opponents. Voting for the bill were 160 Republicans and 148 Democrats, while 102 Democrats and 12 Republicans opposed it.

Mr. Obama first requested the money in February, but for months the House, Senate and administration have been sparring over the size and shape of the package. On Tuesday, though, Democrats said they needed to “get this behind us” and move on to the rest of their agenda, including the regular spending bills to keep the government running in the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

Republicans said the bill could have been passed two months ago but for Democrats’ desire to add more domestic stimulus spending to the measure.

“Our first job as members of Congress is to support our troops and the men and women who are in harm’s way protecting our country,” said Rep. Jerry Lewis of California, the ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee.

Ahead of the vote, Mr. Obama made his own plea, telling the House to follow the lead of the Senate, which passed the bill unanimously last week.

Still, the bill deeply split House Democrats. The chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Rep. David R. Obey, Wisconsin Democrat, voted against it, saying he doesn’t have confidence that the war is still the right solution. He pointed to a recent statement by the CIA director that fewer than 100 members of al Qaeda are still in Afghanistan as evidence that the war effort there is wasted.

“I cannot look my constituents in the eye and say this operation will hurt our enemies more than it hurts us,” he said.

But one of his chief deputies, Rep. Norm Dicks, Washington Democrat and chairman of the defense spending subcommittee, said the administration needed the money, and urged his colleagues to support it.

The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, also backed the spending, saying without it, the Defense Department could have to furlough employees and cut programs just to keep paying the troops.

The bill became a lightning rod for various fights, including war policy and stimulus spending. Emergency spending bills are considered must-pass legislation and are considered to be good vehicles to tack on other priorities.

Mr. Obey’s initial version of the bill included tens of billions of dollars in stimulus spending, including money for states and localities to keep or hire teachers.

He proposed redirecting some of last year’s $862 billion stimulus package to pay for the new spending, but that prompted a veto threat from the White House, which said the original Recovery Act should not be altered.

Mr. Obey’s version also included hundreds of millions of dollars to fund Mr. Obama’s pledge to send National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border, and to pay for more technology to catch illegal immigrants. Congressional aides said that money might be passed as a stand-alone bill.

Democrats accused Republicans of blocking the extra funding.

“They need to understand that they are obstructing our economic recovery, as well,” said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat. “However, because it is so important to fund our troops before leaving for the August district work period, I am pleased that a majority of my colleagues chose to vote yes.”

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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