Pelosi Puts Pressure on Dems to OK War Funding
WASHINGTON - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the White House will try to muscle through a $106 billion war funding bill today, hoping to quell a rebellion among liberal Democrats against further support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The fight has two Bay Area Democrats from across the Golden Gate locked in a seesaw struggle to corral votes: Pelosi, of San Francisco, against Petaluma's Lynn Woolsey, co-chairwoman of the House Progressive Caucus and a fierce opponent of the war.
"I see no reason to be keeping our troops in Iraq that much longer and to start into Afghanistan when there's no end in sight," Woolsey said Monday. "If we were voting on funds to bring our troops home from Iraq, I'd vote for it in a minute. ... I just hope we're not repeating the mistake we made in Iraq."
Pelosi has been struggling for weeks to get to the 218 votes out of 256 House Democrats needed to pass the war bill, while the White House has threatened to pull support from Democratic freshmen who vote no.
Brendan Daly, a Pelosi spokesman, acknowledged that she is pressuring her members to vote for the bill and that it is set to go forward today "assuming we have the votes."
Sweetening the pot
Democratic leaders added sweeteners to lure votes for the war bill, including $7.7 billion to prepare for flu pandemics and $1 billon for a "cash for clunkers" program to provide as much as $4,500 in rebates to consumers who trade in old cars for vehicles with higher fuel efficiency.
Northern California Democrats on the fence are Reps. Sam Farr, D-Monterey; Mike Thompson, D-Napa; Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton; and Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento.
"We're certainly not going to let Republicans kill Obama's plan," Farr said, referring to expected opposition among House GOP members. "They just want to embarrass the president."
Rep. Jackie Speier, a San Mateo Democrat, said Monday that she would vote against the funding. Speier promised to oppose the wars during her campaign last year to replace the late Rep. Tom Lantos.
Speier said she has "serious problems with the current wars" and does not believe "escalating the conflicts make America or the world safer."
The wars remain very unpopular among most Democrats, many of whom battled the Bush administration for years trying to withdraw funding for Iraq.
There is also widespread dismay over Obama's "surge" of troops into Afghanistan without a clear exit strategy. Modeled on the Bush administration's Iraq surge, which quelled violence there, the Afghanistan effort will double the number of U.S. troops in the country, to 68,000 by the end of the year.
Today's vote is expected to be close. Democratic leaders need as many as 18 of the 51 Democrats who opposed the war funding in May to reverse themselves. The legislation has twice been pulled from consideration for lack of votes.
Democrats must carry the load themselves, with Republicans who supported similar bills during the Bush administration expected to vote against the bill on grounds that it includes $5 billion for the International Monetary Fund. Obama committed to increase IMF aid at this year's G-20 summit to address the global financial crisis.
Rep. George Miller, a Martinez Democrat and top Pelosi ally who has opposed war funding, reluctantly switched sides Monday.
"I understand the deep frustrations regarding this bill; I've voiced them myself and have consistently voted against the war," Miller said. "I don't support the war in Iraq, and I want to bring it to a close. I registered my concern, but now it is time to give President Obama what he believes he needs to make progress. This bill is part of the price of cleaning up the mess of the failed policies from the previous administration."
Let's make a deal
The Obama administration departed from Bush administration policy by including 2010 war funding in its budget but argued that it needed this last "emergency" war bill as a transition this year.
The White House was forced to promise moderate Democrats that it would prevent the release of more photographs illustrating the past abuse of prisoners held by the U.S. military, now the subject of a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union. An amendment banning the prisoners' release was dropped from the bill at the insistence of House liberals, but to get a deal, the administration promised to classify the photographs if necessary.
Obama suffered a setback on the $80 million he sought to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay. Democrats omitted it from the bill.
Pelosi is telling recalcitrant members "that we need to do this, this is President Obama's plan for both Iraq and Afghanistan. He's got a plan to end the war in Iraq," Daly said. "He's got a plan to refocus our efforts in Afghanistan, and we need to support the president in that, and this is the right way to go."
Where Northern California Democrats stand
How House members polled Monday broke down on the $106 billion bill:
On the fence: Sam Farr, Monterey; Mike Thompson, Napa; Mike Honda, San Jose; Jerry McNerney, Pleasanton; Doris Matsui, Sacramento
Likely/definite yes: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, San Francisco; George Miller, Martinez
Likely/definite no: Lynn Woolsey, Petaluma; Barbara Lee, Oakland; Pete Stark, Fremont; Jackie Speier, San Mateo
Not returning calls: Anna Eshoo, Palo Alto; Zoe Lofgren, San Jose