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REACTION: DEMOCRATS ON THE HILL

Many continue to oppose troop buildup, threaten to block funding

December 02, 2009

While President Obama on Tuesday attempted to persuade the American public that his strategy in Afghanistan would prove successful, an equal challenge lay in winning over skeptics within his own party.

Democrats on Capitol Hill remain divided over the troop expansion outlined by the president, with some suggesting they would mount an effort to cut off funding for the 30,000 additional troops.

"Rather than nation-building in Afghanistan, we should be doing a little more nation-building at home," said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.).

Many Democrats, however, supported the president's decision and urged their party to keep dissent to a minimum.

"This is a very difficult and complex situation with no guarantee of success," said Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.). "I am glad that the president has taken the time to maximize the chances that we will succeed."

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, praised Obama for setting a start date for withdrawal, a move the previous administration resisted. "We couldn't get a timeline out of Bush," Levin said.

For others, that was not enough.

"While I'm encouraged that the president laid out clear goals and a responsible timeline for completion, I remain skeptical about a commitment of 30,000 of our servicemen and women," said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).

Others said that although they agreed with several aspects of Obama's strategy, such as expanding a strategic partnership with Pakistan, they still could not back the troop expansion.

"I support the president's mission and exit strategy for Afghanistan, but I do not support adding more troops," said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice) said Obama's decision carried "eerie echoes of Vietnam."

For some Democrats, opposition to the troop increase could lead to an attempt to block supplemental funding to cover the $30-billion price tag of the buildup. Levin said a vote on such a supplemental measure could come early next year.

-- James Oliphant joliphant@tribune.com

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