House Appropriations Committee chair David Obey, who has made no secret of his discomfort with the Obama administration's plans to dramatically expand the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan, has moved to put a hold on the president's request for new war funding.
Obey, a Wisconsin Democrat whose home-state party last week went on record as opposing any additional war funding, says he will not advance the supplemental spending request until action is taken to address urgent domestic needs. Among the domestic priorities is new education assistance to avert teacher layoffs this fall, a $24 billion package of state Medicaid assistance and the extension of jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed.
Obey, who has been increasingly outspoken with regard to his concerns regarding excessive U.S. spending on wars abroad while needs at home go unmet, told reporters Tuesday that he planned to withhold action on the war funds while congressional leaders and the administration reach some sort of agreement to advance a sweeping economic relief bill that would extend the jobless benefits and provide tax breaks aimed at promoting job creation.
The powerful appropriations committee chair told The Politico that expanding military spending at a time of fiscal strain at the federal level and economic uncertainty in communities across the country is "a huge problem for me."
Obey's right, of course.
The notion that the United States has a blank-check policy to pay for occupations abroad but must always pinch pennies when it comes to paying for job creation and the social-safety net at home might have made sense to George Bush and Dick Cheney. But it does not cut it with grassroots Democrats, who have grown increasingly restless about the administration's embrace of the wars begun by Bush and Cheney.
As for Obey, who came to Congress as an anti-war Democrat in 1969, he has never been comfortable with the Iraq or Afghanistan missions. As one of the last of the classic New Deal Democrats in Congress, he has always understood the guns-versus-butter debate. His preferred strategy would be to dial down the occupation. But if the administration persists in promoting an expansion of the project, the appropriations committee chair says that the president needs to come up with a way to pay for it. (Obey's preferred approach is a surtax on the rich.)
"On the merits I think it is a mistake to deepen our involvement,” Obey explained last fall. "But if we are going to do that then at least we ought to pay for it because if we don't, if we don't pay for it, then the costs of the Afghan war will wipe out every other initiative that we have to have to rebuild our economy. That's what happened with the Vietnam War which wiped out the Great Society. That's what happened with the Korea War that wiped out Harry Truman's Square Deal. That's what happened to the progressive movement back before the 20s when we went into World War I. In each case costs of those wars shut off the ability to afford anything else."