Reporting from Washington — Congressional Republicans on Thursday held fast to support for the Afghanistan war, heavily opposing a troop withdrawal in a vote that tested whether conservative new members would adhere to the party leaders on a significant question of U.S. policy.
Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio), who put forward the resolution, framed it in fiscal terms, predicting that if troops were not pulled out immediately, the war would last until 2020 and cost an additional $1 trillion.
"Are we ready to give up our entire domestic agenda so that we can continue on the path of a war to prop up a corrupt regime?" Kucinich asked.
Despite support from Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), popular with many fiscal conservatives, the argument was rejected in a 321-93 House vote.
Still, more lawmakers were inclined to support the pullout than they were a year ago, when a similar proposal was rejected 356 to 65. Last year, 60 Democrats and five Republicans backed the pullout; this year, 85 Democrats and eight Republicans voted for the withdrawal.
None of the eight Republicans were among the chamber's freshman GOP class. The eight were Paul, Timothy V. Johnson of Illinois, John Campbell of Irvine, Dana Rohrabacher of Huntington Beach, Jason Chaffetz of Utah, Howard Coble of North Carolina, John J. Duncan Jr. of Tennessee and Walter B. Jones of North Carolina.
As popular support for the war slides, President Obama has proposed $113 billion for military operations there in his budget for 2012.The president has said he will begin withdrawing troops in July, but is leaving specifics to commanders.
Opponents of the withdrawal measure contend that pulling troops now would put the U.S. at a greater risk of terrorist attack and eliminate gains that have been made recently.
Rep. Duncan D. Hunter (R-Alpine) said the top reason for U.S. involvement was "to make sure that radicalized Muslims stop killing Americans."
"It's to stop them from destroying this country," he said. "They want to murder us … every single person in this room."
A more moderate voice, Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), said he was reluctant to oppose the resolution but that it would be irresponsible to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan in a short period of time.
"We have security interests in Afghanistan that we must accept," Coffman said. "We need to make sure that the Taliban don't take over the country."
Rohrabacher said that military efforts were failing because American troops were trying to impose a centralized government but Afghan society was inherently more tribal and village-based.
"To keep our troops over there any longer is sinful," he said. "The most responsible course of action is to, as quickly as possible, get our people out of this predicament … not to wait until this bloody quagmire kills even more Americans."
Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Valley Village) was one of the 99 Democrats opposing the resolution, saying that he wasn't ready to accept failure as the only outcome in Afghanistan.
Paul chided the chamber's conservatives, who he said overwhelmingly favored much smaller cuts in public broadcasting but "won't consider for a minute cutting a real, significant amount of money."
Kucinich contended that after 10 years, the war had become a waste of effort as well as money.
"For how long are we going to continue to dedicate hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of lives before we realize we can't win?" he asked.