A treasure trove of classified documents released Sunday by Wikileaks, which sheds new light on the catastrophic failure of the nine-year war in Afghanistan, did not derail congressional efforts Tuesday to pass a $33 billion emergency supplemental bill to continue funding the occupation.
The House passed the spending package by a vote of 308-114. The bill will now be sent to President Obama for his signature. The money will be used to fund the troop surge in Afghanistan, which is part of the revised war strategy Obama announced in a speech at West Point last December.
The combined cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars has surpassed $1 trillion and have claimed the lives of 5,620 US soldiers and hundreds of thousands of civilans.
Bloomberg reported that attempts by war critics to insert amendments into the supplemental bill “targeting Obama’s Afghanistan policies” failed to win support after Obama threatened to veto a bill that contained any provision he said would weaken his commander-in-chief powers.
“The amendment that came closest to passing would have required the administration to submit a report explaining how it intends to end US involvement in the Afghan conflict,” Bloomberg noted.
The bill cleared the Senate last week after Democrats removed $23 billion in unrelated, albeit critical domestic spending, such as $10 billion for state governments to stave off teacher layoffs.
The Associated Press reported that “in addition to stripping money out for teachers and student aid, the final bill omits more than $4 billion requested by the administration to finance settlements of several long-standing lawsuits against the government, including $1.2 billion to remedy discrimination by the Agriculture Department against black farmers and $3.4 billion for mismanaging Indian trust funds.”
But the bill does include “$5.1 billion to replenish the Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster relief fund, $6.2 billion for State Department aid programs in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Haiti and $13.4 billion in benefits for Vietnam war veterans exposed to Agent Orange,” bringing the total spending package to $59 billion.
Still, the number of Democrats who voted against the supplemental spending bill—102—nearly quadrupled, indicating that the raw intelligence reports released by Wikileaks may have had some impact on the final vote. Voting in favor of the bill were 148 Democrats and 160 Republicans. Twelve Republicans voted “no.” [The roll call can be found here.]
Congressman Jim McGovern (D-Massachusetts) said lawmakers should not have voted on the spending bill “until we some questions answered” and “there is a full airing of all the” revelations in the Wikileaks documents.
“It is a mistake to give this administration yet another blank check for this war,” McGovern said. “We’re told we can’t extend unemployment, or pay to keep cops on the beat or teachers in the classroom, but we’re asked to borrow another $33 billion for nation-building in Afghanistan..I think we need to do more nation-building here at home.”
At his weekly press briefing Monday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) said funding the troops and debating the war strategy are two separate issues.
“The supplemental deals with funding those troops we have in the field now. Those troops are there now … they have a mission. I think the president of the United States made a mission that is a doable mission,” Hoyer said. “Now, we may want to reconsider that in a new Congress. The administration may want to reconsider that and [have a] debate about it. But the fact is, those troops are there now, and the money, as we have been told by the Pentagon, will be depleted as of the seventh of August.”
Defense Secretary Robert Gates made similar comments recently, saying the emergency spending bill needed to be passed by August or US troops would not be paid.
Gates made the same remarks when supplemental war bills were being debated by Congress while George W. Bush was president.
In 2007, Gates threatened to fire more than 200,000 Defense Department employees and contract workers because congressional Democrats balked at approving the administration’s spending package for funding the Iraq War.
But the Congressional Budget Office and the GAO told Congress that Gates could tap into the Pentagon’s $471 billion budget to fund the war while Congress continued to debate the merits of giving the White House another “blank check” for Iraq. But the Congress soon blinked.
As Robert Naiman, a senior analyst at Just Foreign Policy and a regular Truthout contributor, pointed out earlier this week, “Under current law, the government can continue to pay for ‘essential national security expenses, including pay for troops’ without a Congressional appropriation.”
Earlier Tuesday, Obama, echoing statements often made by Bush, also urged Congress to swiftly pass the spending bill in order “to ensure that our troops have the resources they need and that we’re able to do what’s necessary for our national security.”
Obama also downplayed the significance of the documents released by Wikileaks.
“While I’m concerned about the disclosure of sensitive information from the battlefield that could potentially jeopardize individuals or operations, the fact is these documents don’t reveal any issues that haven’t already informed our public debate on Afghanistan,” Obama told reporters.
But House Appropriations Commitee Chairman David David Obey (D-Wisconsin), who was largely responsible for managing the legislation, said in the end he could not vote in favor of the bill.
“We have appropriated over $1 trillion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to date. …These wars have been paid for with borrowed money,” Obey said before casting his “no” vote. “But … virtually everything we have attempted to do this year to address the economic crisis and emergencies on the domestic side of the ledger have fallen by the wayside.”