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Obama wants more money for Afghanistan war. Will Congress grant it?

Congress faces a formidable agenda this summer, but nothing is as wrenching as upcoming votes to fund new spending on the Afghanistan war.

By Staff writer / June 9, 2010

President Barack Obama gestures during a news conference with Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai in the East Room of the White House on Wednesday on May 12.

Evan Vucci/AP/File



Congress faces a formidable summer agenda on issues ranging from an overhaul of financial regulation to oversight of the Gulf oil spill. But nothing is as wrenching for the Democratic majority as upcoming votes to fund the surge of US forces in Afghanistan.

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Most of the more than $1 trillion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan passed the Congress as "emergency" spending – that is, funded off-budget. In the Bush years, these were typically big, bipartisan votes, with Republican votes a given.

But this year, House Democrats may again have to find the votes for Afghanistan war spending in their own ranks – and in the shadow of highly volatile midterm elections.

"Some two-thirds of Democrats who supported the president in 2008 now oppose the president's Afghan policy," says former Rep. Tom Andrews (D) of Maine, national director of the Win Without War Coalition. "The base that was so important to victories in 2008 and 2006 [is] going to be critically needed in 2010 and may not be there."

Says Rep. Paul Hodes (D) of New Hampshire, who won election in 2006 as an antiwar candidate: "It's a complex situation where we have no good options and a very tough vote."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calls these votes to send troops into a war that many in her caucus campaigned to end the toughest of her speakership – votes of conscience. "We present the facts, and members make their own decision," she said after her visit to Afghanistan last month.

The last defense supplemental for funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan came just weeks into the new Obama administration in 2009, and House Democrats struggled to pass it. The president said it would be his last wartime supplemental and that future wartime spending would be on-budget.

But despite Republican support for the Obama strategy of a "surge" in Afghanistan, House GOP leaders in 2009 forced Democrats to find all but six of the votes for new war spending from within their own ranks. It could happen again.

In the first defense supplemental of the Obama administration, House Republicans objected to the $5 billion in funding for the International Monetary Fund in the bill and opposed it, 170 to 6. House Democrats struggled to find 39 votes from the 71-member Out-of-Iraq caucus to pass it, 226 to 202.