By Mike Soraghan and Walter Alarkon | Posted: 06/16/09 06:28 PM [ET] - 06/16/09 06:43 PM EDT
The House passed a $106 billion war spending bill Tuesday after a day of intense lobbying by House Democratic leaders to persuade their most liberal members to vote in support of their president.
The 226-202 vote spared President Obama and House leaders an embarrassing defeat on a bill that Obama had made personal efforts to get passed. The bill had lacked enough Democratic support to pass only hours before.
Only five Republicans supported the bill Tuesday, casting their yes votes at the last minute. Among Democrats, 32 voted against the bill, compared to 51 when it passed in May.
Rep. John McHugh (R-N.Y.), chosen by Obama to be secretary of the Army, voted for the bill. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi voted for the bill. She had not voted on the bill last month.
The other four Republicans who voted for the bill were Reps. Anh Cao (La.), Peter King (N.Y.), Mark Kirk (Ill.) and Candice Miller (Mich.).
In addition to about $80 billion to fund wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the bill includes $5 billion in new borrowing for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and $7.7 billion for flu pandemic preparations.
Republicans had strongly backed the bill when it first passed the House in May. But when the Senate added money for the IMF, Republicans turned against it.
“I strongly support funding for our troops,” Rep. Jerry Lewis (Calif.), the ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, said during floor debate. “But I won't support a bailout for hostile regimes disguised as a troop-funding bill.”
Republican leaders built a nearly solid wall of opposition to the bill, despite Democratic claims that they would be seen as failing to “support the troops.” The Democratic campaign arm sent news releases to media outlets in the districts of targeted Republican Reps. Lee Terry of Nebraska, Kirk and Tom Petri of Wisconsin noting their support for previous war supplementals.
But the inclusion of the money sweetened the deal for Democratic liberals, many of whom had opposed the bill in May. Pelosi turned to many of those liberals to make up for the loss of Republican support.
In May, 51 Democrats opposed the bill, with 200 supporting it. With Republicans opposing it, she needed to convince 18 Democrats to change their votes to get the bill passed.
Democrats dismissed the Republican opposition as another example of obstructionism. They also dug up quotes from Republicans supporting IMF funding in the past, saying the issue is a red herring.
“We think this is largely a rationalization for the Republicans’ expressed intent to oppose the funding for the troops,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).
Lobbying on the bill had been intense. Cabinet members called lawmakers, and President Obama had pulled aside Blue Dogs at a White House event to enlist their support. Things became particularly intense and personal among Democrats as the vote neared Tuesday.
When Democrats filed into their caucus meeting around noon on Tuesday, Pelosi was still 10 votes short.
House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) put wavering members on the spot, calling out names from his whip list. He asked them in front of their colleagues whether they would support the bill. Despite Pelosi's plea that the president needed their votes, many said no.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) told his colleagues that, “If we pass this, it will be our war.” Ardent supporters of Israel, worried that the IMF money could wind up in the hands of Iran, said they would oppose it. Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.), a newer member who was among the most heavily lobbied by leaders, told leaders she wouldn't switch her vote.
“They kept saying ‘no,’ ” said one member.
But the pitch worked on Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who came out of the caucus saying she would switch and vote yes.
"I do believe my president is a peacemaker," Schakowsky said. "I'm going to give him what he wants."
So a vote that had been expected in the early afternoon was pushed to later in the evening as House leaders scrambled to find the votes. Hoyer hedged even further, saying the vote could be delayed until Wednesday.
The 10 votes that Pelosi lacked is close to the number that Republicans thought they might lose going into the vote.
The bill now heads to the Senate, where Democrats are largely unified behind the measure. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and centrist Democrats had lodged complaints that it lacked a ban on the release of detainee photos, which the senators feared would inflame anti-American feelings abroad. Lieberman and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) had attached an amendment that included the ban, but it was stripped during Senate-House negotiations.
The senators' concerns were largely assuaged last week when President Obama assured them that he would seek to prevent the photos’ release.
Lieberman plans to vote for the legislation, but he and Graham are still seeking to enact a ban on the photos' release in separate legislation, Lieberman's office said.
Many Senate Republicans, like their House counterparts, wouldn't commit to voting for the supplemental.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a staunch supporter of U.S. military action in Iraq and Afghanistan, said he didn’t know which way he would vote on the bill. He took issue with the inclusion of $1 billion in discounts for Americans who trade in cars for more fuel-efficient vehicles.
McCain said the program, dubbed “cash-for-clunkers,” should be stricken from the supplemental because it has “nothing to do with the war.” He added that it goes against President Obama's commitment to fiscal responsibility.
“I was in the Oval Office, said to the president, ‘Will there be earmarks, pork-barrel projects on the bill?’ ” McCain said. “He said no.”
GOP senators are considering raising a budgetary point of order that could cut the cash-for-clunkers provision from the bill. If opposition to the point of order fails to reach 60 senators, the provision would be stripped out of the bill. The change would force the House to vote again on the new version.
This story was updated at 7:14 p.m.