Veto looms over war supplemental bill

The Obama administration is threatening to veto the war funding bill awaiting a vote in the House over provisions that would undermine the president's ability to conduct military operations in Afghanistan as commander-in-chief.

The House is scheduled to vote on Thursday evening on several amendments that would essentially put conditions on the war funds requested by the Obama administration by either allowing funds to be only used for troop withdrawal from Afghanistan or requesting a timetable for withdrawal by April 2011.

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"As in any military operation, the ability of U.S. forces to operate effectively in Afghanistan depends on affording the Commander in Chief the utmost flexibility and discretion," the Office of Management and Budget said in a statement of administration policy issued on the eve of the House vote. "If the final bill presented to the President contains provisions that would undermine his ability as Commander in Chief to conduct military operations in Afghanistan, the President’s senior advisors would recommend a veto."

There are three pending amendments to the supplemental funding bill related to the war in Afghanistan. One amendment with no named sponsor would strike strike military funding for Afghanistan from the bill.

The second amendment, sponsored by Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), would begin to end the war in Afghanistan by preventing an escalation of troops in there and by limiting funding to the "safe withdrawal" of troops from Afghanistan.

The third amendment, sponsored by Reps. David Obey (D-Wis.), James McGovern (D-Mass.) and Walter Jones (R-N.C.), would require a new National Intelligence Estimate on Afghanistan by Jan. 31, 2011, and a plan by April 4, 2011, on the redeployment of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, including a timeframe for the completion of the redeployment.

The amendment "clarifies that no part of the amendment shall limit the president’s ability to attack al-Qaeda, gather and share intelligence with allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan, or modify U.S. military strategy on-the-ground over the period of redeployment," according to the House Rules committee. 

Obey's proposal to cut $800 million from education reform programs particularly irked the White House. 

Obey is seeking to pay for new spending by taking $500 million from the president's Race to the Top program aimed at rewarding schools willing to undertake reforms to improve student achievement. Obey and the White House have clashed before over the program, which the president considers to be a cornerstone of his domestic policy. Skeptics of the program, which include Obey and teachers unions, said the reforms could weaken local control of schools and reduce funding for some districts.

The White House threatened a veto of the supplemental spending bill if those cuts are included, arguing that they're "short-sighted."

"The Administration is more than willing to work with the Congress to pursue fiscally responsible ways to finance education jobs; however, these rescissions undercut programs that have already received applications from more than three dozen states," OMB said in the statement. "It would be short-sighted to weaken funding for these reforms just as they begin to show such promise. If the final bill presented to the President includes cuts to education reforms, the President’s senior advisors would recommend a veto."

— Walter Alarkon contributed to this report. This story was updated at 7:55 p.m.