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Congress finally clears war-funds bill

After a unique battle between the White House and its own party in Congress, the House reluctantly passed the latest war-funding bill Tuesday evening and sent it to President Obama’s desk. At the height of the Iraq war, Democrats repeatedly fought the Bush administration hard for withdrawal time lines they never got, while the Pentagon ...

After a unique battle between the White House and its own party in Congress, the House reluctantly passed the latest war-funding bill Tuesday evening and sent it to President Obama's desk.

At the height of the Iraq war, Democrats repeatedly fought the Bush administration hard for withdrawal time lines they never got, while the Pentagon would warn of draconian measures it would have to take if the money wasn't given speedily. But this year, the fight was between House Democrats who wanted to include billions in non-war spending -- led by lame-duck appropriations chief David Obey -- and everyone else.

Obey, a longtime war critic, has often voiced his criticisms of what he sees as a lack of clarity in the Afghanistan mission and his lack of enthusiasm for the task there. "Military experts tell us that it will take us at least 10 more years to achieve any acceptable outcome in Afghanistan. We have already been there 9 years. I believe it is too high a price to pay," he said on the House floor Tuesday.

After a unique battle between the White House and its own party in Congress, the House reluctantly passed the latest war-funding bill Tuesday evening and sent it to President Obama’s desk.

At the height of the Iraq war, Democrats repeatedly fought the Bush administration hard for withdrawal time lines they never got, while the Pentagon would warn of draconian measures it would have to take if the money wasn’t given speedily. But this year, the fight was between House Democrats who wanted to include billions in non-war spending — led by lame-duck appropriations chief David Obey — and everyone else.

Obey, a longtime war critic, has often voiced his criticisms of what he sees as a lack of clarity in the Afghanistan mission and his lack of enthusiasm for the task there. "Military experts tell us that it will take us at least 10 more years to achieve any acceptable outcome in Afghanistan. We have already been there 9 years. I believe it is too high a price to pay," he said on the House floor Tuesday.

But the dispute that caused the White House to threaten to veto a Democratic bill was over Obey’s personal mission to include $22.8 billion in domestic spending, including $10 billion for teachers’ jobs, a lot of which would have been taken directly from Obama’s new education incentive initiatives, such as "Race to the Top."

The Senate sided with the administration by rejecting the House version and passing a $58.9 billion war bill, exactly matching Obama’s request. The bill includes $5.1 billion for federal disaster relief, $2.8 billion for relief efforts in Haiti. and $68 million toward cleaning up the Gulf Coast oil spill. They sent their version to the House using a procedural maneuver that would allow the lower chamber to clear the legislation with one vote, rather than sending it back to the Senate as is usually done.

The House, faced with an impending one-month recess and under increasing pressure from the Defense Department, brought the Senate version of the bill to the floor and passed it with a majority of Republicans supporting it and 101 Democrats voting against, including Obey.

The House even brought up the bill under a "suspension of the rules," a procedural maneuver that prevented anyone from suggesting amendments.

The vote showed that Democrats are split on the war, but it also showed the priority of domestic concerns among lawmakers leading up to the midterm elections.

"I am disappointed that many important domestic investments were not included in this bill, including investments in our children’s educations and in access to higher education for so many deserving, qualified students," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-MD said after the vote. "However, because it is so important to fund our troops before leaving for the August district work period, I am pleased that a majority of my colleagues chose to vote yes."

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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