TOPICS > Politics

Funding Bill for Iraq, Afghan Wars Stalls in the House

May 15, 2008 at 6:30 PM EDT
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The latest infusion of funds for U.S. forces fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan has been delayed by debate in the House of Representatives. Kwame Holman looks at debate and examines what it will mean for troops on the ground.
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REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), Speaker of the House: We’re all grateful for the fact that this will be the last time we will vote on an Iraq supplemental in the House of Representatives.

KWAME HOLMAN: As the House took up the final Iraq spending bill of George Bush’s presidency, Democrats already had their eye on how Iraq policy might change with a new occupant of the White House.

Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey.

REP. DAVID OBEY (D), Chair, Committee on Appropriations: That means that we have to try to find a way to manage this problem in a way that sends a clear message to the public that they’re the only ones who can, in fact, muster the power to change direction on this war by electing a president who will get us out of this war.

It also means we have to manage it in such a way that we set the table for the new president, to give him at least a few months to think through how he is going to proceed to extricate us from this war, and to get his ducks in a row on Iraqi policy.

KWAME HOLMAN: And so Democratic leaders agreed to provide $162 billion, most of what the president requested, to continue the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan into 2009.

But Republican Leader John Boehner threw up a red flag.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), House Minority Leader: Admiral Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, has said we’ve got to have the funding for our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We know that, come early June, layoff notices go out to contract employees who work at the Pentagon. Why? Because we can’t seem to get this bill finished. And why can’t we get it finished? Because we have a bill in front of us that has all types of unrelated spending beyond what is needed to fund our troops.

Bill contains billions in extras

KWAME HOLMAN: Because, in addition to the war money, Democrats included in the bill a timeline for withdrawing troops from Iraq and added billions in domestic spending, for extended unemployment benefits and college scholarships for veterans, among other things.

New York Democrat Louise Slaughter called the extra spending "necessary."

REP. LOUISE SLAUGHTER (D), New York: These actions of fiscal incompetence by the Bush administration left this country's economy struggling, and American families are paying the price.

And no families are paying it more than the families of the men and women who are fighting this war. No sacrifice has been asked from any of the rest of us.

Rising levels of sustained joblessness require us to extend unemployment benefits to those workers who understandably cannot find a job. This bill does just that.

KWAME HOLMAN: Indiana Republican Mike Pence disagreed.

REP. MIKE PENCE (R), Indiana: ... I believe the American people need to know what's going on here. I mean, this is a backroom deal for $250 billion that includes $72 billion in domestic spending that has nothing whatsoever to do with our soldiers and the war on terror.

It also will increase taxes on working families by $51 billion. Higher taxes and higher domestic spending put on the backs of our soldiers is indecent.

KWAME HOLMAN: And John Culberson of Texas said much of the extra spending simply was pork.

REP. JOHN CULBERSON (R), Texas: To burden our troops with pork, with tax increases, with special provisions that have nothing to do with the war, adds to, I think, the obvious misuse of the process.

CONGRESSMAN: The gentleman's time is expired.

REP. DAVID OBEY (D), Chair, Committee on Appropriations: I'd like the gentleman from Texas to point out a single piece of member pork in this bill.

REP. JOHN CULBERSON: Does the gentleman yield?

REP. DAVID OBEY: Yes.

REP. JOHN CULBERSON: Mr. Chairman, there's a number of unnecessary provisions in there.

REP. DAVID OBEY: Name one.

REP. JOHN CULBERSON: Well, why are we separating out, sir -- why aren't we just passing...

REP. DAVID OBEY: Name one.

REP. JOHN CULBERSON: Why are we...

REP. DAVID OBEY: Can you name one or can't you? The fact is there is not a single piece of member pork in this bill. You know it, and you ought to take that back.

REP. JOHN CULBERSON: The levees for Louisiana...

Objections to bill win the day

KWAME HOLMAN: Republicans also objected to the extra money for college scholarships for veterans returning home, a new G.I. Bill expected to cost more than $51 billion over 10 years, paid for by a tax increase on the wealthy.

Wisconsin's Paul Ryan called that a "bad idea."

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), Wisconsin: I can't think of a worse time implement a tax increase, with a weak economy that is struggling to create and grow jobs.

Republicans will not support this bill; the president will veto this bill. Yet the Democratic leadership brings it to the floor and continues to play politics with funding for our troops.

KWAME HOLMAN: But Democrats countered that, after five years of war, the U.S. government owed the troops a chance to earn a college degree.

REP. RAHM EMANUEL (D), Illinois: You've compared this war the equivalent to what we did in World War II. Well, let's make it the equivalent by giving these kids a G.I. Bill. They've earned it everyday, doing something that not one of us have done in this context.

And, yes, we've asked those who are the most well-off in this country, people we all know, to pay a little so these kids can go to college and pursue their dream that they made possible for us because of their sacrifice.

And I know a lot of those people, and they're willing to pay a little more to make sure that these kids have an opportunity for the American dream.

CONGRESSMAN: The gentleman asked for the yeas and nays.

KWAME HOLMAN: The different provisions of the bill were voted on separately, beginning with the war funding measure. But most Republicans sat out the first vote in protest, simply registering as present.

CONGRESSMAN: The first portion of the divided question is not adopted.

KWAME HOLMAN: And with the majority of Democrats opposed to the war voting no, the $162 billion to continue military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan was defeated.

The House went on to approve through the troop withdrawal timelines and the domestic spending, relying almost solely on Democratic votes.

Those two provisions now will be sent to the Senate, which will work out its own money figures and send the entire package back to the House.

Waiting in the wings, however, is President Bush, who has threatened to veto any bill that contains anything beyond the war funding.