More than 100 Democratic House members and a dozen Republicans voted against funding the Obama administration’s Afghan war surge Tuesday, offering one of the strongest shows of opposition to presidential warmaking since the Vietnam War era.
President Obama still got the money for his expanded war in Afghanistan, as well as for his plan to continue the occupation of Iraq.
By a 308-114 vote, the House approved a $58.8 billion emergency funding bill—most of which will go to pay for the president’s plan to surge tens of thousands of additional troops into Afghanistan. The measure parallels a Senate bill passed earlier this month and will now go to Obama’s desk for a quick signature.
But the real story Tuesday was that so many members of the president’s own party rejected his misguided approach to foreign policy.
Even in 1968, at the end of his tortured presidency, Lyndon Johnson never faced so high a level of opposition from fellow Democrats to his requests for Vietnam War funding as Obama was hit with Tuesday. And the votes against Obama’s war were not just coming from the usual suspects; Democratic opposition to the president’s policies surged from thirty-two votes against last year’s supplemental spending bill for Afghanistan and Iraq to 102 against this year’s bill.
“All of the puzzle has been put together and it is not a pretty picture; things are really ugly over there,” Congressman Jim McGovern, D-Massachusetts, said Tuesday with regard to the House Democratic Caucus. “I think the White House continues to underestimate the depth of antiwar sentiment here.”
California Democrat Lynn Woolsey, a co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said that this week’s Wikileaks revelations regarding the quagmire in Afghanistan had strengethened the resolve of many Democrats who were doubtful about the supplemental. "The documents released to the news media this past weekend by WikiLeaks add to the mounting evidence that the war in Afghanistan remains fiscally unsustainable and morally unjustifiable," said Woolsey, who explained that, "As if I needed any more persuasion, the WikiLeaks revelations left me with no other choice than to vote this week against the supplemental appropriations bill to spend billions more on military operations in Afghanistan. How could I in good conscience endorse continued financial support for an unwinnable war, one that does violence to our values and is undermining our national security objectives? There is only one option: End this war and bring our troops home."
The most dramatic "no" vote came from Wisconsin Democrat David Obey, the chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, who was charged with bringing the bill to the floor for a vote.
”I have a double, and conflicting, obligation. As chairman, I have the obligation to bring this supplemental before the House to allow the institution to work its will,” explained Obey. “But I also have the obligation to my conscience to indicate—by my individual vote—my profound skepticism that this action will accomplish much more than to serve as a recruiting incentive for those who most want to do us ill.”
Obey argued that the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan unreliable partners with histories of corruption. And he questioned why US tax dollars should fill their coffers when the United States is struggling to deal with domestic economic challenges.
"I have the highest respect and appreciation for our troops who have done everything asked of them. They are being let down by the inability of the governments of Afghanistan and in some instances Pakistan to do their parts,” Obey told the House. “I would be willing to support additional war funding—provided that Congress would vote, up or down, explicitly on whether or not to continue this policy after a new National Intelligence Estimate is produced. But absent that discipline, I cannot look my constituents in the eye and say that this operation will hurt our enemies more than us.”
As arguably the top expert in Congress on budgeting, the Appropriations Committee chair explained that continued spending of the sort seen in the supplemental for an ill-defined and seemingly endless occupation of Afghanistan threatens to "obliterate our ability to make the kinds of long term investments in our own country that are so desperately needed."
Joining Obey in voting "no" to the war supplemental were a number of senior Democrats, including Education and Labor Committee chair George Miller of California, Judiciary Committee chair John Conyers of Michigan and Veterans’ Affairs Committee chair Bob Filner of California.
Among the Republicans voting "no" were the GOP’s traditional antiwar bloc, which includes Texas Congressman Ron Paul, Tennessee Congressman John Duncan and North Carolina Congressman Walter Jones, as well as a number of new critics of the Afghanistan mission.
Arizona Congressman Jeff Flake, an ally of Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican who is one of the war’s most ardent backers, voted "no."
So, too, did Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz, who explained that: “If the reason we should stay in Afghanistan is because we are in Afghanistan then it is time to re-evaluate your position.”