CQ TODAY ONLINE NEWS
May 20, 2011 – 10:43 p.m.
Anti-War Bloc Seizing the Moment
By John M. Donnelly, CQ Staff
Three weeks after U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden, anti-war lawmakers are preparing for what could be the most significant debate on ending the war in Afghanistan since it began 10 years ago.
House Republicans are expected to allow at least one amendment this week to their defense authorization bill that would call for the United States to expedite plans for winding down the nation’s involvement in Afghanistan. Similar attempts in the past few years have received about 100 votes in favor of troop withdrawal — although one last year drew more than 160 — and supporters hope bin Laden’s death gives them an opportunity to send their strongest message yet to President Obama.
Although it’s still unclear which amendments will make it to the floor, proposals range from ones requiring the Obama administration to give Congress a detailed plan for extricating U.S. forces from Afghanistan to ones that would effectively mandate a withdrawal of forces by a certain date.
With nearly solid GOP opposition and White House resistance, none of the proposed amendments are expected to be adopted. But growing public antipathy to the war could translate into the biggest vote yet against the conflict, antiwar lawmakers said, which could pressure Obama to expedite his plan to withdraw most troops by 2014 and to force him to downsize the mission.
Supporters of the amendments said strong floor votes could give Obama political cover to move from a wide-ranging counterinsurgency campaign — or “nation-building” as some have called it — to a more targeted counterterrorism operation of the sort that killed bin Laden.
These advocates believe a majority of lawmakers in both chambers want most U.S. troops to return home from Afghanistan promptly. But that silent majority is unwilling to vote that way, they said, because many Democrats do not want to buck their president and Republicans are wary of appearing soft on defense.
“There is a significant number of Democrats who don’t want to tell the president what to do but would be delighted if he were to redefine the mission to anti-terrorism,” said Rep.
No more than nine Republicans have joined scores of Democrats in supporting withdrawal amendments in the House in the last couple of years. Their ranks may grow by a few this week, members said. If that happens, it will not be enough to make a difference in a lopsided losing vote, but it would be seen by some as an indication of eroding public and congressional support for the war.
Long Floor Debate
The Rules Committee will meet Monday to address general debate rules for the defense policy bill (
Aides expect the panel to allow at least one Afghanistan amendment. It is not clear which might be allowed, but Garamendi offered and then withdrew one during the committee’s May 12 markup, so his may have something of an advantage.
Garamendi’s amendment is one of the most recent pieces of legislation seeking to expedite the end of the war, which is already the lengthiest in U.S. history. His proposal would require that the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan — which now stands at about 100,000 — not exceed 25,000 by the end of 2012 and not be above 10,000 by the end of 2013.
Anti-War Bloc Seizing the Moment
It also would require that funds authorized by the defense bill be used “only for purposes of counterterrorism operations,” which it defines as targeting terrorist cells and training local security forces — not, Garamendi has said, as part of a broader attempt at nation-building or providing security for the Afghan people.
Obama has said he will begin in July to withdraw some portion of the approximately 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, although most experts do not expect the number leaving in that initial phase to exceed 10,000. The president’s goal is to extract most U.S. troops by 2014. Obama has said he wants to stay long enough in Afghanistan to reduce the chances that the country — or neighboring Pakistan — will become a terrorist safe haven.
Besides Garamendi’s proposal, the House could consider other anti-war amendments.
“I will offer several amendments, including to limit funding in Afghanistan to protect our troops through safe, swift and orderly withdrawal, and to assert Congress’ expectation that the president announce a significant and sizeable reduction of troops levels in Afghanistan by no later than this July — a position supported by a growing majority of the American people,” Lee said. “It is long past time we end America’s longest war.”
Last July, during debate on a war-funding bill (PL 111-212), Lee’s amendment to require funding only for withdrawal netted 100 votes. During that same debate, a proposal by McGovern that would have required a congressional vote on the proposition stated in Lee’s measure and mandated an administration report on when and how a withdrawal would be completed garnered 162 votes — a good showing for supporters but not nearly the number needed to pass.
The House may also consider one or more amendments this week that would limit or attach strings to the $1.1 billion in the bill for training and equipping Pakistani counterinsurgency forces. The discovery of bin Laden’s hideout in Pakistan has sharpened concerns that U.S. aid has yielded little in cooperation from Islamabad on fighting terrorists and insurgents.
The Armed Services Committee defeated by voice vote a proposal by
Instead, the committee supported a provision, introduced by