In reversal, GOP balks at war funding

House Republicans are preparing to vote en bloc against the $106 billion war-spending bill, a position once unthinkable for the party that characterized the money as support for the troops.

For years, Republicans portrayed the bills funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as matters of national security and accused Democrats who voted against them of voting against the troops.

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In 2005, Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) went so far as to say sending troops into battle and not paying for it would be an “immoral thing to do.” And just last year, more House Republicans voted for the war supplemental bill than did Democrats, who opposed the legislation because it did little to wind down the military effort in Iraq.

But Republicans say this year is different. Democrats have included a $5 billion increase for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to help aid nations affected by the global financial crisis. Republicans say that is reason enough to vote against the entire $106 billion spending bill and are certain voters will understand.

“Once the American people learn that the Democrats are using a war-funding bill for a global bailout, they’ll know what to do,” House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) told The Hill. “We’ll take the message to the floor and to the American people, and I expect we’ll win this fight.”

Republicans are gambling that voters will be able to decipher the nuances of policymaking in Washington and reject campaign slogans that will accuse GOP lawmakers of flip-flopping on what was once the party’s top priority.

Or perhaps they are reading the polls that suggest the war has dropped from the America public’s radar. Six years after the invasion of Iraq and nearly eight years after entering Afghanistan, the impact of military action on voters has taken a backseat to the effect of the struggling economy.

According to a Gallup poll taken last month, 47 percent of Americans said that the economy was the country’s biggest problem. Another 14 percent specifically mentioned unemployment as their top issue. Nine percent put the situation in Iraq as their main worry.

The House will vote on a conference report for the supplemental war bill as early as Tuesday. The Senate is expected to vote on a conference report later this week.

The House initially passed a bill on May 14 by a vote of 368-60, and all but nine Republicans backed the measure. But the House version did not include the IMF funding; the Senate version did, and the conference report adopted that provision.

A spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) noted the Republican support for the version that did not include the IMF funding and accused Democrats of politicizing the issue by including non-war-funding provisions.

“It is the Democratic leadership that is playing politics with our troops by insisting on using them as leverage to pass over $100 billion in global bailout money for the IMF,” said Michael Steel, Boehner’s spokesman.

However, Republicans also have used the supplemental war bills to advance non-related priorities. In 2006, Republican senators included $4 billion for farm programs and $700 million for a railroad project on the hurricane-battered Gulf Coast.

Republicans also embraced the war supplemental in 2007 — advanced by the Democratic-controlled Congress — that included an increase in the minimum wage.

While the Obama administration has said that increasing the IMF funding is crucial to the global response to the economic crisis, Republicans said the money could end up in countries that are hostile to the United States.

Once the GOP votes against war funding, Democrats will seek to paint Republicans as flip-floppers, just as Republicans did when Democrats changed their position on a war-spending vote. The charge reached its peak in the 2004 presidential election, when Democratic candidate Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) was forced to defend his 2003 vote against the war-spending measure after initially supporting it.

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“Anytime there was a Democrat [who] raised concern on some of these supplementals, he was tarred as being anti-troop,” said a House Democratic leadership aide.

The Democratic aide charged House Republicans with “hypocrisy” for opposing a bill because of the IMF funding, which amounts to less than 5 percent of the proposed spending in the legislation.

“It seems like they’re putting the interest of the Republican Party and the ability for them to develop a campaign narrative ahead of the interest of the troops,” he said.

House Republican leaders said that most GOP House members will oppose the bill, just as they did with the Democrats’ previous big-ticket items, including the $787 billion stimulus and the $410 billion omnibus.

“As written, if this bill is going to pass — with all of its troubling provisions and funding — it will need to pass on the strength of Democrat votes, which is why Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi [D-Calif.] continues to pressure members of her own party,” said Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.).


J. Taylor Rushing contributed to this article.

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