Seeking supplemental

Democratic leaders in the House have been suffering severe headaches over supplementary spending legislation for war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It’s not because of the overall price tag, which has risen from about $83 billion initially to $106 billion now.

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It’s about other particulars in the legislation that prevent Democrats from gathering virtually any of the Republican support needed to make up for the fact that the anti-war wing of the Democratic Party in Congress will not support the measure.

Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) has told Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) that Republicans will vote en bloc against the measure.

For the GOP, there are two sticking points.

First, the bill includes $5 billion for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for aid to countries suffering from the global financial crisis; Republicans say the public will not support a global bailout.

In addition, an amendment drafted by Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has been stripped out of the bill. If included, the language would have prohibited the release of photographs of Americans abusing terrorists and terrorist suspects in custody.

The politics of this dispute are fascinating, for they show that Republicans now believe they can avoid suffering political damage if they vote against funding for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is a measure of how far the war has slipped down the list of voters’ concerns.

Back in 2005, when Republicans ran Congress and were putting together supplemental spending legislation of their own, Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), to take just one example, declared that it would be immoral to vote against funding American troops in the field.

Today, Republicans say the situation is different because Democrats have injected politics into the supplemental with the IMF money and the stripping-out of the detainee photos language.

It is instructive to remember, however, that Republicans added extraneous amendments to their own war supplemental spending bills in years gone by.

Still, Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) says, voters will understand the issue with the IMF.

Well, maybe.

But it’s a fair bet that when the bill comes to the floor, several Republican members will not see it Pence’s way. They will not want to go into the 2010 midterm campaign having voted against funding for the troops.

They will doubtless and with good reason calculate that such a vote would be a golden opportunity for Democrats to use the GOP’s own words against them.

Yet Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Hoyer, remembering how every House Republican voted against the stimulus bill, are not going to rely on picking off a few GOP votes to pass the war-spending bill. To achieve certain passage of the bill, House Democrats must persuade highly reluctant, anti-war lawmakers to approve it.