Fate Of War Funding Bill Still Up In The Air

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June 9, 2009 3:23 p.m.

I noted earlier that an amendment authored by Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC)–which would allow the White House to withhold all photographs of detainee abuse–will not appear in the supplemental war funding bill, currently stuck as it awaits a conference between House and Senate negotiators.

But the funding legislation still has a long way to go–or will have to be changed again–before it achieves final passage. That has nothing to do with the war spending itself, which has overwhelming support. The problem for the White House and Democratic leaders is that progressive Democrats, Blue Dogs, and the entire House GOP each oppose different aspects of the bill–enough that there may not be enough votes for the supplemental itself to pass.

To understand everything, you need to go back to May 14, when an earlier version of this same spending bill passed the House by an overwhelming margin of 368-60. It had the support of almost all Republicans and all-but 51 Democrats–progressives, by and large, opposed to the nature of the funding process and the wars that process lengthens.

Then that bill went over to the Senate, where two controversial amendments were added, and the game changed dramatically.The first was the aforementioned Graham-Lieberman amendment–but that’s out of play for now.

The other–at an initial cost of about $5 billion–would provide the International Monetary Fund with a $100+ billion line of credit. That one caused the GOP to do a complete reversal on the overall bill.

Republicans first said their opposition was rooted in concern that IMF money would find its way into the pockets of terrorists. (Some GOPers still contend this, but for the most part that argument has fizzled (PDF).) Then, they began criticizing it on fiscal responsibility grounds. Now, critics on both the right and the left are describing it more accurately as a bailout for foreign banks, and trying to kill it on populist grounds.

This is a problem for President Obama, who promised to deliver the line of credit at the G-20 summit in April. If he and Democratic leadership keep the IMF funding in place, they’ll needs more Democrats on board. That‘s why the torture photos provision has been scotched from this particular bill. Remember, 51 Democrats voted against the supplemental before the Senate added Graham-Lieberman. Between them and the entire GOP, that’s enough to kill the whole spending bill. If the administration wants the IMF provision passed–and it does!–it will have to convince many of those Democrats to switch their votes, which wasn’t going to happen with Graham-Lieberman in there.

And it still might not.

A number of liberal Democrats in the House object to passing war funding through an emergency supplemental on principle. Many of them also have separate concerns about the IMF provision, as do some others who initially voted for the war spending. The congressional math, in other words, is pretty complicated, and fairly uncertain. But let’s break it down a bit.

  • 51 Democrats voted against the original war spending bill.
  • 14 of those who voted for it now say they have some concerns about the IMF provision
  • Four Democrats didn’t vote at all.
  • The Democrats need 218 votes to pass the bill. There are 255 Democrats, which means they can lose as many as 37 of their own members and still pass the thing.
  • Another way of putting that: 200 voted for it in May–and now the administration and Democratic leaders have to convince 18 more Democrats that either a). they shouldn’t be concerned about the IMF provision, or b). the IMF provision is actually so important that they should ignore for now their principled opposition to the supplemental process and vote for it (Barney Frank is in this group).

There are other wrinkles in this too. First: Blue Dogs. They don’t like the IMF proposal either, but are being pressured to vote for it on national security grounds. And they could, in a rare moment of comity, find common cause with House progressives.

Meanwhile, Graham and Lieberman are threatening to drag Senate business to a halt until their provision gets signed into law one way or another. (It was filed today as an amendment to an FDA bill now being considered on the Senate floor.) In reality, their threats are unnecessary. Their amendment actually has pretty broad support in Congress and could pass on its own or as an amendment to a different bill. But they want it passed now, not later.

In other words, there are tons of variables at play here. Keeping track of every potential swing vote would probably require a ledger, a pot of coffee, and a very large bottle of Tylenol. But the White House really wants to keep the IMF proposal in there and, as such, for now, the fate of the bill is unknown.

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