WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama on Thursday won decisive House approval for money to escalate U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but the victory obscured anxiety within his party about the course he is taking in the war-torn region.
Some Democrats – as opponents of President George W. Bush’s war in Iraq – see the same perils in the new administration’s military moves.
“This is a bill that I have very little confidence in,” Rep. David R. Obey, D-Wis., an outspoken liberal, said of the $97 billion measure to finance military operations in the region. “But we have a responsibility to give a new president who did not get us into this mess the opportunity to get us out of it.”
Despite qualms at the highest levels of the Democratic caucus, the House approved the funding, 368-60.
The 51 Democrats who voted against the bill included an amalgam of liberal lawmakers who consistently have voted against the Iraq war, critics who believe Obama’s strategy in Afghanistan is too vague, and others who did not want to spend so much abroad when the U.S. economy is in bad shape.
Rep. Walt Minnick, D-Idaho, voted for the measure; Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., did not vote.
The bill provides money for U.S. operations in Iraq in the run-up to the planned withdrawal of most U.S. combat troops by mid-2010. It also finances Obama’s strategy of adding 21,000 U.S. troops and trainers in Afghanistan and includes $400 million for training in Pakistan.
But the measure did not include $80 million that the administration had requested to pay the cost of closing the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility. At the last minute, lawmakers added a ban on moving any detainees to U.S. soil until two months after Obama submits a plan for their relocation.
A similar bill was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday and is expected to go to the Senate floor next week. The Senate bill includes money for closing Guantanamo but specifies that it cannot be used until the administration produces a plan for relocating detainees.