Washington — Despite Democrats’ rising anxiety about Afghanistan, the House on Thursday easily passed a $96.7 billion measure filling President Barack Obama’s request for war spending and foreign aid efforts there and in Iraq.
Some 51 Democrats broke with Obama, who is sending thousands more troops into Afghanistan, but all but a handful of Republicans stood behind the president to produce a 368-60 tally. Republicans supported the measure even though majority Democrats added almost $12 billion to Obama’s $85 billion request.
The measure would boost total funding provided by Congress for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars above $900 billion.
Across Capitol Hill, a key Senate committee approved a companion $91.3 billion bill that sticks closely to Obama’s war request — including $50 million for the Pentagon to begin the promised closure of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The issue of closing Guantanamo is addressed in the House measure as well — not with funding but with a promise that detainees from the prison will not be released on U.S. soil. A new provision, however, anticipates some of the 241 detainees at Guantanamo will be transferred to the United States to stand trial or serve their sentences.
A separate conflict over the war-funding measure concerns whether it should provide a $108 billion U.S. contribution to the International Monetary Fund as part of an expanded $500 billion IMF loan fund, a cornerstone of last month’s Group of 20 nations summit in London to assist poor countries struggling through the global economic downturn.
Obama officially requested the IMF funding late Tuesday, and the request was immediately incorporated into the Senate version by Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye of Hawaii. The IMF funds would cost U.S. taxpayers about $5 billion since the government is issued interest-bearing assets in return for the contribution.
House Republicans oppose adding the IMF funds to the war-funding measure, and their votes will be needed to pass the final House-Senate compromise bill, given the opposition of anti-war Democrats.
As for the military spending, during the Bush administration many Democrats stressed their opposition to the war in Iraq while supporting efforts against al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan. But an increasing number of party liberals are skeptical of success in Afghanistan.
Chief among them is Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., author of the House legislation as chairman of the Appropriations Committee. But for now he’s giving Obama a chance to demonstrate greater progress in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“This is a bill that I have very little confidence in,” Obey said. “I think we have a responsibility to give a new president — who did not get us into this mess — the best possible opportunity to get out of it.”
Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., is opposing the infusion of war funds. He’s not impressed with Obama’s plans on Afghanistan.
“Sometimes great presidents make mistakes, and sometimes great presidents make even great mistakes. I hope that doesn’t happen here,” McGovern said. “As the mission has grown bigger, the policy has grown even more vague.”