Republican Sit-Out Stalls War Funding in House

The president's funding request to pay for the war in Iraq has been defeated in the House. Many Republicans sat out the vote on the $163 billion measure in protest over spending added to the measure by Democrats. The Senate is expected to revive the funding measure next week.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Renee Montagne. The debate over the war in Iraq yesterday took center stage in the House. A series of votes resulted in a plan to bring the troops home in a surprise rejection of additional money to pay for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, at least for now. NPR's Debbie Elliott explains.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT: House Democrats have been trying to end the war in Iraq since they took over Congress but have been thwarted by President Bush and his Republican allies on Capitol Hill. Yesterday, anti-war lawmakers got an unlikely assist from Republicans who sat out the vote on a $163 billion war-funding measure in protest of how Democrats handled the legislation.

Leaders bypassed the usual committee process and added Democratic priorities to the bill. The war appropriation failed on a 149 to 141 vote after 132 Republicans voted present.

Members of the liberal Out of Iraq Caucus like Georgia Democrat John Lewis were pleased.

Representative JOHN LEWIS (Democrat, Georgia): Well, I think it sent a strong message that it's time for us to end this war. People expected us to do it when we first took the majority. We need to end the war and bring our young men and our young women home in an orderly fashion.

ELLIOTT: Democrats had crafted three parts to the bill to be voted on separately: the war-funding measure, an amendment to change war policy, and one with new domestic spending. The House approved the policy changes, including a non-binding timeline to bring troops home by the end of next year. It also approved a 13-week extension of jobless benefits and a surtax on millionaires to give veterans a free college education.

Republicans argued dividing the package into three separate votes was intended to provide political cover for those Democrats who wanted to reject war funding but still approve the other two amendments.

Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio): It was a political scheme. We wanted to expose it, and we did.

ELLIOTT: Minority leader John Boehner.

Rep. BOEHNER: To bring this bill up the way they did, along with every kind of handcuff known to man to try to thwart our troops' ability to succeed, was a vast mistake on their part. And when you begin to consider all of the excess spending they decided to put on the backs of our troops, knowing that the president was going to veto this.

ELLIOTT: The White House has promised to veto the extra spending and the timelines, and the Senate is expected to restore the war funding next week, but for now, the anti-war lobby is claiming victory.

(Soundbite of political protest)

Unidentified People: (Chanting) Bring them home, Congress, bring them home.

ELLIOTT: As lawmakers filed down the Capitol steps after voting yesterday, Code Pink war protestors shouted their approval.

(Soundbite of political protest)

Unidentified Person: (Shouting) Finally, Republicans for peace.

ELLIOTT: Not all Democrats were pleased with the outcome. Congressman John Murtha, chairman of the Defense Appropriation Subcommittee, said the Republican protest vote sends the wrong message to the troops.

Representative JOHN MURTHA (Democrat, Pennsylvania): All these times when they say that people who are against the war are sending a bad message to the troops, here they have stopped the funding. I've said over and over again, as long as troops are in the field, we're going to provide the funding. I think it's a bad mistake. It's irresponsible on their part.

ELLIOTT: Freshman Democrat Tim Mahoney of Florida, a member of the conservative Blue Dog Coalition, agrees.

Representative TIM MAHONEY (Democrat, Florida): It was a simple vote on whether or not you wanted to fund the troops, and by voting present, they basically were AWOL. You know, it's the kind of thing that disappoints people about Washington, and it's the kind of nonsense that we need to stop.

ELLIOTT: The Pentagon warns if new funding isn't approved by June, it will start sending furlough notices to civilian and contract workers. Debbie Elliott, NPR News, The Capitol.

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