House approves funding for war in Afghanistan

The House late Thursday approved additional funding for the war in Afghanistan, beating back a series of Democratic amendments aimed at forcing the Obama administration to withdraw troops.

The supplemental appropriations bill, containing billions of dollars in additional domestic spending sought by Democrats in the House, passed 239-182, with 15 Democrats and 167 of 177 Republicans voting against the measure.

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But President Barack Obama will not be able to sign the war funding bill — which the Pentagon had wanted to see signed into law by July 4 — until later this month because the House amended the Senate's already approved version of the legislation.

And further changes seem likely. Just as the House was preparing to vote on the rule for the supplemental, the Obama administration released a statement strongly supporting the underlying war funding but threatening a presidential veto of any bill that includes "provisions that would undermine [the president’s] ability as commander in chief to conduct military operations in Afghanistan."

The administration statement also threatened a veto of any bill "that includes cuts to education reforms." The $15 billion in education aid added by the House would be partially offset by $800 million in cuts to new education programs. The Appropriations Committee said the cuts would not affect funding for any existing grant programs.

"It seems only reasonable to defer some new activities and expansions in order to help address the urgent fiscal crisis facing our school systems," read a committee statement. "In addition, the rescissions in no way damage the future funding prospects in better economic times for these programs."

Republicans decried the parliamentary maneuvers as "political chicanery" aimed at pushing through the Democrats’ domestic spending priorities, and complained that the votes were structured to make it impossible for the House to approve the military funds without first sending the legislation back to the Senate.

At the same time, it was Republican opposition that prevented passage of at least one amendment designed to bring the war to a much more rapid end than the administration may want.

Republicans voted in large numbers against three amendments designed to accelerate an end to the Afghanistan war, preventing liberal Democrats from securing an end to the war either through cutting off funding or by demanding a date certain for withdrawl.

Still, Democratic resolve for a war with no defined end appears to have eroded to critical levels in the House.

An amendment offered by Reps. David Obey (D-Wis.), James McGovern (D-Mass.) and Walter Jones (R-N.C.) to require the president to submit to Congress a new National Intelligence Estimate on Afghanistan, including a timeline for redeployment of U.S. troops out of the region, won the support of 153 Democrats and nine Republicans. But with 162 Republicans and 98 Democrats voting no, the amendment failed on a 162-260 vote.

And earlier in the evening, Democrats just barely managed to scrape together the votes for the rule allowing the debate of the war funding bill.

Party leaders were forced to hold open the vote for several minutes, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) could be seen huddling with Reps. Steve Cohen (Tenn.) and Paul Kanjorski (Pa.), the last Democratic holdouts. Both cast yes votes to push the motion over the top. When it was clear the measure had passed, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) switched her vote from yes to no. The final total was 215-210, with eight lawmakers not voting.

Cohen told The Hill earlier in the week that he was disinclined to support a war funding bill after bowing to pressure from party leaders who needed him to switch his vote from no to yes a year ago.

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