Liberal Democrats Take Aim at Funding for War

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by
The San Francisco Chronicle

Liberal Democrats Take Aim at Funding for War

by
Joe Garofoli

Rep. Barbara Lee of Oakland has sponsored a bill to cut off war funding. (Photo: Alex Wong / Getty Images)

Liberal Democrats, led by heavy-hitting members of Congress from California, are taking on President Obama for the first time, aiming to block funding for his plans to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan.

At the same time, voters who supported Obama's candidacy last year are expressing their disappointment online and in street protests against his plan to increase American forces in the war-ravaged nation to nearly 100,000.

"This is not the hope you voted for," read a sign at an anti-war protest in San Francisco this week.

Congressional leaders predict that Obama will have to ask Congress for supplemental war funding in the next six months to pay for his plan, which his administration estimated would cost $30 billion. Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., who chairs the subcommittee that oversees the Pentagon budget, predicts it could top $40 billion.

Bay Area positions

That offers an opportunity for opponents, including Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, who has sponsored a bill that would cut off funding for the war, to leverage Congress' power to challenge the war.

A week after saying there wasn't Democratic support for an escalation, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi - typically the president's biggest backer on Capitol Hill - continued Thursday to offer neutral statements on Obama's plan except for saying she opposes a proposed war surtax to fund it.

Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus' Afghanistan Task Force, worries about the annual cost of $1 million per soldier on the ground in Afghanistan.

Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, added: "I expect more casualties, and I don't see any end to what has been going on unsuccessfully."

At a Senate Foreign Relations hearing Thursday, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said "the situation got worse" after she voted to fund Obama's request to send 21,000 more troops to Afghanistan earlier this year.

"How can we now leap to the conclusion that more troops will mean less violence when the opposite seems to have occurred?" Boxer said.

Coalition abandoned

Obama is abandoning the coalition of liberals who helped elect him, analyst Phyllis Bennis of the liberal Institute for Policy Studies said, by relying on support from "the Pentagon, the Republicans and the right wing of the Democratic Party, who together will claim their due as an empowered pro-war coalition."

That realignment, she said, could imperil Obama's domestic agenda - including proposals to reform health care, establish climate change policy and fix the economy - by alienating liberals in his party and adding to the burgeoning federal debt.

"It ruins the potential for his domestic agenda," Bennis said. "How is he supposed to do health care if he spends another $30 billion on Afghanistan? And if he doesn't do health care or climate change or his jobs program, then he's got a big problem politically."

Grassroots dismay

Obama's grassroots supporters are dismayed by his plan for a troop surge, even though he consistently called Afghanistan the "central front" in the battle against terrorism during his presidential campaign and has called for sending at least two more brigades, roughly 10,000 soldiers, there since 2007.

"I held out hope that he wouldn't really do it," Desiree Aubry, a San Francisco City College student, said at a San Francisco anti-war demonstration Wednesday night that drew 200 protesters.

The liberal organizing hub MoveOn.org wants supporters to lobby Congress to set a firm troop pullout date. And on the Web site of Organizing for America, an extension of Obama's campaign effort, a poster identified as Jono Shaffer wrote: "This decision on Afghanistan is a slap in the face to those of us who supported you as a peace candidate."

Still, Congress will give Obama the money needed to fund the expanded Afghanistan operation, said Lawrence Korb, a senior fellow at the liberal Center for American Progress who advised Obama on Afghanistan strategy during his presidential campaign. "And I don't think it is going to have an impact on his domestic agenda."
They'll come around

Liberal congressional leaders like Pelosi will eventually support the plan out of political necessity, said Steven Hill, director of the Political Reform Program at the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank.

While Obama's Afghanistan plan may not be popular with the Democrats' anti-war wing, it will play better with conservative Blue Dog Democrats. Obama needs those legislators to retain their seats next year to maintain a strong majority in the House, Hill said.

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