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Pelosi on brink of big win with Iraq funding test

As the House heads to its first vote of 2007 on funding the Iraq war,  Speaker Nancy Pelosi seems on the verge of a major victory, due in part to anti-Iraq war members who voted last year against additional money for the war, but who’ve switched their votes.
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WASHINGTON — Speaker Nancy Pelosi was headed for a big victory in the House vote on Friday on $124 billion in funds for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

If, as looked likely Friday morning, she does win, her victory will be largely due to two groups of Democrats:

  • Anti-Iraq war House members who voted last year against additional money for the war, but who’ve switched their votes, partly because the spending bill prescribes an August 2008 deadline for withdrawal of some, and perhaps most, U.S. troops from Iraq.
  • Rookie Democrats elected last November, most of them on an out-of-Iraq platform, who’ve decided to support the speaker in what is by far the most significant vote of her two-month tenure.

A Pelosi victory seemed nearly certain Thursday as leading opponents of the spending bill, such as Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., conceded defeat. "I cannot stand in the way of passing a measure that puts a concrete end date on this unnecessary war," said Lee in a written statement.

A day earlier another anti-war leader, Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., sounded fatalistic, telling reporters the Iraq spending bill “probably will” pass.

“For the majority to lose this vote would be huge,” said third-ranking House Republican Rep. Adam Putnam of Florida on Wednesday.

And for that very reason — Pelosi’s clout and prestige being at stake — she seemed headed for victory as wavering Democrats rallied to her.

Republicans criticize 'lard'
Putnam and other Republicans also noted that Democratic leaders had added more than $20 billion to the bill in excess of President Bush's request with some of that money targeted for items unrelated to Iraq or Afghanistan. Putnam called the projects "lard."

In Friday's debate Rep. Jeff Flake, R- Ariz challenged the insertion of money for the Stennis NASA facility in the congressional district of Rep. Gene Taylor, D- Miss.

House Appropriations Committee chairman David Obey of Wisconsin heatedly defended the money for the Stennis facility and said that no member had asked him to put the Stennis funds into the bill.

Flake and other Republicans tried in vain to slow passage of the bill by raising parliamentary points of inquiry regarding what they called "earmarks" in the bill, such as the Stennis NASA money. The Democrat presiding over the House, Rep. Michael Capuano,, D-Mass., dismissed their objections.

Pelosi has thin margin for victory
There are 233 Democrats in the House, which means Pelosi can afford to lose only about 15 of her members; only a handful of Republicans are expected to vote for the bill.

The supplemental spending bill would continue to pay for the U.S. mission in Iraq and would authorize that mission at least for 12 more months and possibly longer.

The bill tries to limit the length of deployment of Army soldiers to 365 days in Iraq and of Marines to 210 days. But it permits President Bush to waive those restrictions.

It also permits U.S. forces to be kept in Iraq beyond the bill's August 2008 exit target date if they are training Iraqi soldiers or if they are engaging in missions to kill or capture members of al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations.

House members will be voting on the bill knowing that the deadline will almost surely be removed by the Senate when it votes on the measure next week.

Senate Democrats were able to muster only 48 votes last week, well short of the 60 needed, for a weaker version of the deadline idea, one that would have set as a "goal" the withdrawal of almost all U.S. forces by March 2008.

“The people who vote ‘yes’ have to believe the timelines and benchmarks (in the bill) are meaningful, but I don’t,” Woolsey said.

But Woolsey and the anti-war contingent in the party have been abandoned in recent days by House Democrats who last year voted against more funding for the war.

Among them:

  • Jim McDermott of Washington — The 10-term Democrat hails from Seattle, one of the most passionately anti-war cities in the nation, and has consistently voted against funding the war.

As of Wednesday afternoon he was publicly undecided on the Iraq vote. “I’ve not made up my mind,” he said. But he also said, “Most of us who are ‘no’ votes could probably be ‘yes’ votes and survive politically.” 

“We know what the president is going to do with this (bill),” he said. “He’ll issue one of those presidential signing statements” and proceed as if the restrictions in the bill did not apply to him.

On Thursday McDermott announced he'd vote for the funding. "What we have before us is a first step. And despite my serious misgivings about it, it is the only step in the right direction, which is out of Iraq," he said.

  • Earl Blumenauer of Oregon — He represents another anti-war city, Portland, and seemed to signal a "yes" vote Wednesday , saying, "I'm hopeful I can get to a point where I can vote for it. This is a work in progress.... The speaker is working hard.... I'm optimistic that it will all come together." On Thursday he confirmed his "yes" vote in a statement on the House floor.
  • Jim McGovern of Massachusetts — In 2005 he sponsored a bill that would have cut off all funds for the war and forced Bush to pull the troops out.

“I want this God-damned war ended now,” he said Wednesday. “There are not 218 other people in the House who agree with me right now.” So he said he had to decide “is this (bill) the best I can get or not?” He added, “As much as I would love to vote ‘no,’ I’m not quite sure what a ‘no’ vote means, or whether it would produce something worse than we have now.”

McGovern said he had spent much of the day “telling my colleagues to leave me alone and stop ‘whipping’ me.” 

House Democratic whips have been urging members to vote for the spending bill, even if they have opposed previous ones. 

On Thursday McGovern announced he'd vote for the spending bill.

Among the other Democrats who voted last year against funding but who’ll now vote “yes”:

  • Zoe Lofgren of California
  • Lois Capps of California
  • Rush Holt of New Jersey
  • John Olver of Massachusetts

“I think we’ve got to move forward on this, and while I might prefer some of the elements to be different, not all 435 people get to write it,” Lofgren said. “At some point you’ve got to say, ‘Are we moving forward in this direction which sets deadlines, or are we not?’”

Pelosi splits the anti-war movement
Pelosi adroitly split the anti-war movement, with the activist group enlisting in rounding up support for the war funding.

In last year’s elections only a few House Democrats faced primary challengers who tried to defeat them because of their support for the war. Among them were Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif. and Rep. Albert Wynn, D-Md.

For 2008, it is uncertain whether the anti-war left will field many credible primary challengers to Democratic incumbents.

“Having groups like support the bill is allowing members (such as Harman and Wynn) to quickly let voters know there’s a strong base of support in the Democratic Party in favor of the bill,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. 

Seeing it differently was David Swanson, a board member of Progressive Democrats of America: “If the House passes this bill, many Democrats will give up on being Democrats, as they've just given up on being members of Moveon.” 

Key backing from the newly elected
Prominent among the first-termers who will back the funding is Rep. Carol Shea-Porter of New Hampshire, who said Wednesday she’ll vote for the bill because of the 2008 deadline for exit of some troops.

“I’m hanging everything on the fact that we have a date and we are sending a message to the president.” She also said, “We don’t have the troops to continue this fight even if we had the will and the stomach — and we don’t.”

Shea-Porter said when she recently returned home to her district she encountered constituents “screaming.” She said, “They just couldn’t believe I was voting for the supplement…. It is a shock for people to hear me say, ‘I’m supporting the supplement.’”