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House Defeats Troop Funding Bill

In a victory for anti-war Democrats but a surprise to their leadership, the House rejected on Thursday afternoon funding to continue the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

By a vote of 141 to 149, and with 132 Republicans voting “present,” lawmakers voted against the amendment providing $162.5 billion in emergency spending for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. This included $96.6 billion for fiscal 2008 and $65.9 billion for part of fiscal 2009.

The full bill, without the war funding language, will now head to the Senate.

Republicans favor continued funding for the war but voted otherwise in protest of the way the bill was crafted behind closed doors and brought to the floor by circumventing the committee process.

Nonetheless, Democrats heralded the bill’s failure as a victory for anti-war advocates.

“This was a straight up-or-down vote on … the war,” said Nadeam Elshami, spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), after the amendment failed.

Democrats will now wait to see what happens in the Senate, he said, adding that Democrats always knew the funding would “pass or fail with Republican votes.”

“They were for the war before they voted present,” Elshami said.

Democrats charged that the Republican move was in reaction to the loss of a third straight special election in GOP territory on Tuesday night.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) told his Conference at a meeting Thursday that they had to produce an agenda to climb out of a “hole” and avoid massive losses in November. He also told Republicans to employ “guerrilla tactics” on the floor to draw contrasts with Democrats.

Boehner called the Democrats’ move “unprecedented” and “unfair to our troops.” He defended Republicans’ vote strategy and said that in the end it would actually speed up funding for the troops.

“The sooner we blew up this process, the sooner we can get a clean troop funding bill to the president’s desk and he’ll sign it,” Boehner said. “So actually we think we can speed this process up by exposing the cynicism that was brought to the floor today.”

“The majority wanted to use us before they abused us,” Boehner said. “They wanted to use the troops before they abused the troops.”

House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.), said the GOP had gone “AWOL on the White House.” “What they did just demonstrates what happens when panic sets in after a Mississippi loss,” he said.

“We gave them an opportunity to vote up or down on the merits. … 132 of them ducked the vote in order to be cute.”

Obey, who voted against the funding, resisted any criticism of the strict process that brought the funding to the floor without a committee markup or Republican input.

“Why should I be embarrassed by their stupidity?”

“I think they are in complete disarray,” said House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense Chairman John Murtha (D-Pa.), one of a minority of Democrats who voted for the funding.

“The Mississippi vote shocked and stunned them. … They’re panicked, they’re confused, they can’t get rid of George Bush fast enough.”

Murtha noted that war opponents were jubilant and came up to him and congratulated him, telling him “Geez, you finally found a way to end the funding for the war.”

House Republican Conference Chairman Adam Putnam (Fla.) called the Democrats’ attempt to pass the funding as an amendment an “aggressive, imaginative floor tactic” that has become par for the course under Democratic rule.

“This has been their M.O. since they took the majority,” Putnam said.

Putnam said that in spite of today’s vote, an overwhelming majority of Republicans remain committed to funding the war.

“What’s clear today is a majority of the majority does not support a clean funding bill for our troops,” Putnam said.

Rep. David Wu (Ore.), one of 147 Democrats who voted against the funding measure, let out an exuberant “yes!” as he headed onto the House floor and was told that the funding amendment had gone down.

The failed war funding provision was one of three amendments taken up as part of the final war supplemental package.

By a vote of 227-196, the House approved the second amendment to tie Iraq policy restrictions to war funding.

These would have included requirements that all combat troops be withdrawn within 18 months, that the Iraqi government matches U.S. dollars for reconstruction efforts, that permanent bases in Iraq be barred and that interrogation techniques not authorized in the Army Field Manual be prohibited.

By a vote of 256-166, lawmakers also approved the third amendment to attach domestic spending items to the bill. These would have included expanded GI benefits for veterans education and a 13-week extension of unemployment insurance benefits.

During the two and a half hours of debate, Republicans lined up to rail against the way the supplemental was crafted behind closed doors and accused Pelosi of drawing it up and handing down orders to Democrats.

Obey asserted that the bill was not crafted in secret at all, but in the Appropriations Committee office, and that it included input from all committees with jurisdiction over issues in the bill.

“Once again, when they can’t argue about the substance, they whine about process,” Obey said. “That’s not going to impress many people. It certainly didn’t in Mississippi,” he said.

Funding for the war is likely to be added in the Senate and be sent back to the House, but for at least a day, liberals celebrated a rare victory on the war.

“I knew that they were angry about the process but I never thought they would be so angry to kill the bill,” said Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.). “I’m still stunned.”

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