Funds Stalled In Congress Amid Afghanistan Fatigue

In late May, the Senate approved President Obama's request for nearly $40 billion in emergency war funding. Most of that was to pay for an additional 30,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

The House also approved that funding, more than two weeks ago. Still, even though the Pentagon says the money is urgently needed, it remains tied up in disputes between the chambers.

Some lawmakers say that reflects a growing trend on Capitol Hill: Afghanistan fatigue.

Funding The War

When Defense Secretary Robert Gates had lunch behind closed doors the other day with Senate Republicans, he would not say what they had discussed when asked by reporters. But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell would.

"The principal thing he emphasized, we already knew — which was that we need to get this supplemental appropriations bill for the troops passed," McConnell said.

McConnell is one of a dozen Senate Republicans who voted for that war funding. But more than two-thirds of his party colleagues voted no — a vote that would have been all but unheard of for GOP senators when George W. Bush was president.

Like McConnell, Missouri Republican Kit Bond voted for the Senate version of the war funding. But he says he can't support the version of the bill the House sent back to the Senate. "Unfortunately, the House has put all kinds of extraneous stuff on it ... including $23 billion in spending that we don't need. We've got to stop that and get a clean bill passed," Bond says.

'Smells And Tastes Like Vietnam'

The White House, meanwhile, has threatened to veto the entire war funding bill, because the House transferred money from a controversial education program to a fund for preventing teacher layoffs.

Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin says it's not clear when or how these disputes might get settled. "There was a sense of urgency earlier this year on the supplemental on Afghanistan. I don't sense it as much anymore," he says.

Harkin was a Navy pilot in Vietnam. He says constituents compare the war there to the one in Afghanistan. "This sure smells and tastes like Vietnam, and [it has] got all these earmarks of corruption and different cultures, and we're not looked upon as ... helping and supporting; we're looked upon as invaders," he says.

'Growing Tired Of This War'

And it's not just congressional Democrats who have deep misgivings.

"I think I am with a lot of Democrats on this that are very weary and growing tired of this war," says freshman House Republican Jason Chaffetz of Utah.

Chaffetz was one of seven House Republicans who voted with 93 Democrats to require that any additional funds for Afghanistan be used only to withdraw U.S. forces. Chaffetz calls Afghanistan one of the toughest issues he's faced.

"I've traveled there. I've tried to avail myself of all the classified intelligence I can. I've been to the briefings of the generals. I talked to the parents of the soldiers and Marines that were killed in Afghanistan — I've had four since I've been here as a freshman. I talked to their parents, I told them the position, and they agreed with me," he says. "And that was very satisfying, to have them in a unified way saying, 'Jason, we support you in your position in bringing the troops home.' "

A 'Lack Of Clarity'

Afghanistan fatigue seemed to set in Wednesday at a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Tennessee Republican Bob Corker told U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke he could find no clarity in what the U.S. was doing there.

"What I feel because of this lack of clarity is that we are in Afghanistan because we're in Afghanistan," Corker said.

This growing impatience was acknowledged by Holbrooke: "I cannot tell you how deeply we feel that pressure, particularly because as several of your colleagues have said, American men and women are risking their lives, sometimes paying the ultimate price, for this policy, and it has to work. We owe it to them."

Meanwhile, the Pentagon this week raised the possibility that, if the funding remains stalled, some of its employees may work without pay to keep the war effort running.

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