An addition $33 billion in spending for President Obama’s occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq — and they are now his occupations as much as they once were George Bush’s — was approved by the House Thursday night as part of a broad "emergency" supplmental spending bill.
But the money for the Afghanistan quagmire did not come without a fight.
Two-thirds of House Democrats and nine Republicans voted for an amendment sponsored by Appropriations Committee chair David Obey, D-Wisconsin, and Congressmen Jim McGovern, D-Massachusetts, and Walter Jones, R-North Carolina, that would have required the president to rapidly begin developing a plan for the safe, orderly and expeditious redeployment of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. The Obey-McGovern-Jones amendment also called for more detailed reporting to Congress on the status of the occupation and for stricter congressional oversight of private contractors working on the ground in Afghanistan in order to address charges of corruption, waste, fraud and abuse.
The amendment received 162 votes, while 260 members opposed it.
What was significant was the partisan breakdown.
Among Democrats, 153 backed the amendment, while 98 opposed it.
Among Republicans, 9 backed the amendment while 162 opposed it.
So President Obama is now relying on Republicans to provide unquestioning support for his war, while most Democrats want to see an exit strategy developed.
Significantly, 100 members of the House (93 Democrats, 7 Republicans) voted for an amendment offered by California Congresswoman Barbara Lee, the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, which proposed to fully fund a withdrawal plan.
Twenty-five members (22 Democrats and three Republicans) cast the boldest anti-war votes, backing an amendment to strike Afghanistan funding from the supplemental bill. Another 22 members (all Democrats) voted "present," suggesting their sympathy with the proposal.
What does it all add up to? Congress has not checked or balanced the president, and that is disappointing — although opportunities still exist to do so, as the supplemental spending bill now must go back to the Senate for another vote.
What should be understood, however, is that the president’s own party is losing patience with his misguided war strategies.
As Paul Kawika Martin, Peace Action’s policy and political director, said late Thursday: "A year ago, American voters turned against the Afghanistan war. They understand that the enormous costs of blood and treasure are not necessarily making us safer. Congress is slowly catching up with their constituents. The votes in the House showed increasing congressional concern for a failed policy in the Afghanistan region at a time when Representatives are thinking about elections four months from now."
They are, as well, thinking about how to balance a budget when so much money is being diverted to expand missions that Obama should be bringing to an end.
"We’ve been in Afghanistan for nine years, making it the longest war in our nation’s history, and it’s come at a tremendous cost. We’ve tragically lost more than 1,100 American lives and spent close to $300 billion. We’ve also been in Iraq for seven years, where we’ve lost more than 4,400 American lives and spent more than $700 billion," explained Congressman John Garamendi, D-California, who added that, “Every dollar spent on war is a dollar not available for job creation in America, our schools, paying down the deficit, or helping those afflicted by natural and man-made disasters. The more than $30 billion allotted for the Afghanistan war could employ 300,000 teachers in schools across America."