By Jared Allen and Roxana Tiron - 10/09/09 12:14 AM EDT
The chairman of the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday questioned the wisdom of sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan.
Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.) also indicated a White House funding request for more troops would face significant scrutiny.
“As an appropriator I must ask, what will that policy cost and how will we pay for it?”
Obey’s warning shot comes as President Barack Obama’s administration is engaged in an internal battle over what to do in Afghanistan.
The debate threatens to boil over, and Democrats appear divided over how to proceed if Obama backs a reported request from the commander in Afghanistan to send as many as 40,000 more troops to the country.
Even if a request for more troops is well below that figure, senior House appropriators say it would require Congress to pass a supplemental spending bill for 2010.
“There’s going to be a supplemental whether there’s more troops or not, because they’re going to run out of money in the spring,” said Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), the chairman of the Appropriations Defense subcommittee. He has predicted for months that the administration will need a supplemental next year on top of the overseas contingency funds approved for fiscal 2010.
But Congress may not be faced with a vote on a supplemental for more troops until next year, leaving the door open to months of debate and maneuvering over the issue.
Obey warned earlier this year that he would seek to slow down funding for the Afghanistan war unless Obama’s new strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan achieved significant progress.
He has disagreed with Democrats such as House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) that terrorist groups will only gain strength if the United States doesn’t adopt a more aggressive military presence in Afghanistan.
“The more U.S. troops we send to Afghanistan to fight the insurgency, the more we risk hardening them into an implacable enemy,” Obey said in Thursday’s statement, which was released as House members gathered for a bipartisan briefing on Afghanistan from National Security Adviser James Jones.
Despite Obey’s comments, Murtha on Thursday said he believed Congress would ultimately provide money for more boots on the ground in Afghanistan.
“There’s going to be scrutiny ... I think anything [the president] decides, with his popularity, and if he explains it and if he explains he has a strategy and we can measure the strategy, I think he can get it through,” Murtha said.
Obey is far from the only Democrat to express reservations about sending more troops to Afghanistan even if it’s what Obama determines is necessary.
Exiting a bipartisan meeting with Obama on Tuesday, a visibly uncomfortable Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) recoiled and rolled her eyes in reaction to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) statement that “everyone, Democrats and Republicans, said, ‘Whatever decision you make, we’ll support it.’ ”
“Maybe that’s where Harry Reid is personally,” House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.) said when asked about Reid’s comment. “I don’t think that’s where the Senate is, necessarily … And I don’t think that’s what the Speaker said.”
Polls show the public is skeptical about sending more troops to Afghanistan, and that appears to be having an impact on rank-and-file Democrats.
In 2008, many Democrats campaigned on a platform that said the Bush administration had put the focus on Iraq instead of Afghanistan, where the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks originated. A number of freshman Democrats won GOP seats with this argument.
Now some of those lawmakers are reluctant to support a troop increase for Afghanistan.
Republicans, meanwhile, are offering support for sending more troops to Afghanistan. They stress that the White House should not delay its decision on how to proceed, and have called on Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of American forces in Afghanistan, to come to Congress to outline the situation in Afghanistan.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has also asked for McChrystal to testify.
Larson said he favors a smaller surge of special-forces troops along the lines of what Vice President Joe Biden initially suggested was necessary.
“We’ve already voted with the [president] back in February to give him the extra troops that he needed,” Larson said.
“Now we’re getting back from McChrystal that Taliban strength has increased, we’re seeing more U.S. casualties already, we have a government that’s corrupt, a glimmer of hope in building up the [Afghan] army that can sustain itself … But what is the strategy here?”
Murtha suggested Obama may need to rely on Republican as well as Democratic votes to win supplemental funding, if he decides to increase the U.S. presence.
“It may take more Republicans than Democrats, depending on what it is — it may take more Democrats than Republicans or all Democrats. It just depends on what he decides,” Murtha said.