Political Hay

The War Over War Funding

The fight to pass Obama's spending bill for Iraq, Afghanistan, and the IMF wasn't as easy as it looked.

By 6.19.09

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Yesterday President Barack Obama's $106 billion war supplemental sailed through the Senate by a 91 to 5 vote, as was expected. But in the House, the spending bill faced a much more difficult path to passage that was anything but expected.

Dozens of liberal Democrats who had campaigned against the Iraq war voted to fund it, at the request of an antiwar president. In the end, only about 30 of the hardest-core antiwar liberals in the Democratic caucus defied Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer on the supplemental vote.

It gets stranger. All but five Republicans in the House voted against the bill funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, joining Dennis Kucinich and Barbara Lee. For the first time since the Clinton years, Ron Paul stood with a majority of his fellow Republicans when he voted against a war supplemental.

The Politico's Mike Allen accused the GOP of doing an "about-face" on funding the troops. He quoted a senior Democratic leadership aide: "This is absolutely stunning and totally irresponsible on the part of John Boehner and House Republicans. George Bush and the Republican Party led us into this war and now Boehner and Co. vote to leave the troops high and dry for political reasons. This is a real game-changer on national security, one House Republicans will be hearing about for a long time."

So have Republicans gone wobbly while the Democrats have become the strong-on-defense party? When it comes to Democratic war spending, there is usually more to the story. Remember the emergency spending bill for Iraq and Afghanistan that shoveled money toward peanut farmers and spinach growers? This time international bureaucrats get a cut.

At issue was $5 billion tucked away in the bill to secure a $108 billion International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan. Republicans blasted it as a "global bailout" and pointed out that the $108 billion IMF package is actually larger than the nearly $80 billion going to the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Unfortunately, Democratic leaders decided the bailouts here in America weren't enough," said House Minority Leader John Boehner in a statement. "They've insisted on including a $108 billion global bailout in a bill that is supposed to fund the troops." House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence, a leading conservative, also criticized the "global bailout" that was "passed on the backs of our troops."

Conservative writers and bloggers also pounced. Wrote Connie Hair of Human Events: "American taxpayers, should this supplemental pass the Senate, would have to borrow money from foreign countries like China to loan to the IMF for this boondoggle."

Meanwhile, liberal bloggers -- many of whom don't like bailouts any better than the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- began salivating at the prospect of the supplemental's defeat. "House Republicans, including Minority Leader John Boehner, have threatened to vote no on the war funding if the IMF money is attached," wrote Robert Naiman on Huffington Post. "If Boehner could bring all the Republicans with him, and if all the Democrats who voted no last month voted no again, the war supplemental would fail on the floor of the House, 200-228."

But House Democratic leaders came up with the votes, allowing the supplemental to pass by a final vote of 226 to 202. When the ban on releasing terror detainee photos was reinstated in the Senate, upper chamber opposition collapsed and the bill passed easily. It is now on its way to President Obama's desk.

House Republicans will be criticized for departing from the Bush-era rhetoric concerning war funding votes (especially considering the "emergency" process the last administration preferred when it came to paying for the wars). Democrats will come under increasing fire from the netroots for saying one thing when it comes to war and then doing another.

Nevertheless, the House war funding imbroglio might still have lasting ramifications. If antiwar Democrats realize a war is still a war even when a member of their party is in the White House, and Republicans realize that extraneous spending is still extraneous spending even when the stated purpose is national defense, Obama could face a left-right coalition large enough to start handing him legislative defeats.

Politics makes for strange bedfellows.

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About the Author

W. James Antle III, author of the new book Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped?, is editor of the Daily Caller News Foundation and a senior editor of The American Spectator. You can follow him on Twitter @jimantle.