Democrats prepare to pass war funding bill without Republican support

House Democrats are preparing to pass an Afghanistan war-spending bill on a party-line vote as Republicans balk at extra provisions the White House wants in the measure.

Passing such a spending bill through the lower chamber will be difficult because some anti-war Democrats routinely vote no on war bills. Moreover, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has vowed not to lean on her caucus on this year’s war supplemental after whipping the measure in 2009.

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House Democratic leaders are planning to take up the package funding President Barack Obama’s troop increase in Afghanistan after it passes the Senate. Senior Democrats in the upper chamber and the Obama administration are looking to attach to the war bill a $23 billion fund to help state and local governments stave off teacher layoffs.

House Republicans have strongly criticized the effort to tack on the education funding, suggesting that they could oppose a war-spending bill for the second year in a row. Some Republicans have called the education funding another “bailout” that will add to the country’s $13 trillion debt.

“Giving states another $23 billion in federal education money simply throws more money into taxpayer-funded bailouts when we should be discussing why we aren’t seeing the results we need from the billions in federal dollars that are already being spent,” said House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) in a statement.

Boehner and other Republicans have called for a “clean” war-spending bill.

“Our troops and the American people need this bill right now, not weeks from now, and certainly not after it’s been loaded up with billions in bailouts,” said Rep. Jerry Lewis (Calif.), the ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee.

While Republicans are balking at the idea of including the education funding with $33.5 billion for the war, the inclusion of the teacher fund — which could save as many as 300,000 jobs, according to its proponents — could make House liberals take a second look at the package.

Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.) has opposed an escalation of the Afghanistan war, but he hasn’t ruled out backing a package that also included money for teachers.

“We’ll review the whole package the Senate will send us, but at this point he’s inclined to vote against the funding,” an aide to McGovern said.
House Republican leaders who had supported other war bills opposed the final 2009 measure because it included $5 billion for the International Monetary Fund (IMF), a provision that Republicans considered to be “global bailout” money.

Needing more Democratic support, House leaders and Obama aides pressured 20 anti-war members to flip their original “no” votes in the House bill to yes on the final bill.

Pelosi later labeled her whipping on the 2009 Afghanistan measure the “hardest sell.” The bill passed 226-202 with 32 Democrats (including McGovern) voting no and all but five House Republicans rejecting it.

After Obama announced his surge of 30,000 troops in Afghanistan, Pelosi late last year suggested the president would need to convince skeptical Democrats.

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“The president’s going to have to make his case,” Pelosi said at the time.

The Speaker has also said she never relies on Republican votes to pass legislation on the House floor.

Democrats said Monday that they would pounce on any GOP opposition to a fund aimed at saving jobs and improving education.

“Congressional Republicans are threatening the jobs of thousands of teachers in every district in America, and they will be held responsible for the pink slips educators will receive,” said Nadeam Elshami, a spokesman for Pelosi. “It is hard to understand why Republicans — whose policies drove the economy into a ditch and cost us 8 million jobs — would refuse to help keep teachers in the classroom, educating our children.”

The Obama administration has called on Congress to approve the war-spending bill by the Memorial Day recess. Of the $59 billion in the measure moving through the Senate, $33.5 billion is for military operations and will go toward funding Obama’s plan to increase U.S. troops in Afghanistan by 30,000. The Senate measure also has $13.4 billion for compensation to Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange, $6.2 for foreign aid and $5.1 for domestic disaster aid.

Because the war funding and disaster aid are considered emergency spending, their costs don’t need to be offset with spending cuts or new taxes, Democratic appropriators have said.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) plans to offer a floor amendment attaching the $23 billion teacher fund to the package.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has pushed Democratic leaders to include the money for teachers and another $3 billion to help state and local governments stave off cutbacks to police, firefighters and early-education workers.