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Protest stalls war funding

House Republicans, accusing Democrats of playing politics, refuse to back a requested $166 billion.

May 16, 2008|Richard Simon | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — A war-funding measure passed the House on Thursday, but without any war funding.

As strange as that may sound, this is Congress, after all.

Democratic leaders divided the emergency war-funding measure into three parts. The part that President Bush most wants -- money for the troops -- went down to defeat after most of his fellow Republicans, in a protest against Democrats, refused to support it.

The House approved, largely along party lines, the other two parts: setting timelines for troop withdrawals, and providing money to extend unemployment benefits and imposing a new tax on higher-income taxpayers to pay for a new veterans' education benefit. But the White House has threatened to veto those provisions.

Then, in the only unanimous action of the moment, lawmakers rushed to begin their long weekend.

Thursday's developments underscored the heightened state of tensions in Congress in this election year. But it didn't spell doom for the president's request for more than $166 billion to fund military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan into early next year.

Ultimately, Congress is expected to send Bush a bill funding military operations.

The funding portion of the bill failed in the House because Republicans were angry that Democrats wrote the bill without GOP input, bypassing the Appropriations Committee and putting the $184-billion measure on the House floor without giving GOP lawmakers much time to read it.

"Republicans voted 'present' on the troop funding bill to expose a cynical ploy by the Democrat majority to play politics with our troops," House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said.

Democrats brushed off the complaints, saying they followed the same procedures in use when Republicans controlled Congress.

While Democrats and Republicans were warring on the House floor, the Senate Appropriations Committee worked to write that chamber's version of the war-spending measure. The Senate bill calls for more spending on domestic programs that the White House supports.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), the committee chairman and a fierce guardian of congressional prerogatives, signaled that -- even at 90 -- he was prepared to confront the White House over the added domestic spending.

The measure is likely to be the only appropriations bill to emerge this year. As a result, senators from both parties were scrambling to add money for favored programs.

The Senate bill also included a provision to help farmers struggling with labor shortages. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Sen. Larry E. Craig (R-Idaho) added a provision to give as many as 1.35 million undocumented farm workers temporary legal status for five years.

Thursday's House action was as much about campaigning as it was about legislating.

Democrats sought to highlight Republican support for an unpopular war while portraying GOP lawmakers as neglecting problems at home. Republicans cast Democrats as big spenders eager to raise taxes and delay funding for the troops to score political points.

And antiwar lawmakers claimed the House vote against war spending as a rare victory, even though it stands to be reversed in coming weeks.

"This vote shows how far the antiwar movement has come," said Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Petaluma). "We've never been able to get this many votes against funding before, and it demonstrates that the momentum is on our side."

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richard.simon@latimes.com

Times staff writer Nicole Gaouette in Washington contributed to this report.

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