Dems cry hypocrisy, GOP opposes billBy Glenn Thrush
June 18, 2009
Five years ago, George W. Bush and the GOP excoriated John Kerry for abandoning the troops.
His sin: Kerry voted against an $87 billion war funding bill to protest unrelated tax cuts included in it, then explained it badly by saying, “I actually voted for the $87 billion before I voted against it.”
Shoe, meet the other foot.
Tuesday night, 170 House Republicans pulled a collective Kerry — voting against a $106 billion war funding bill most of them had previously supported, because this version contained money for the International Monetary Fund.
The move, spearheaded by Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), has sparked howls of hypocrisy from Democrats and murmurs of dissent from Republicans who fear it will give Democrats a once-in-a-decade shot at attacking the GOP on national security.
“It was a vote to support the troops; to be voting against it was to be voting against the troops — so it was a mistake,” said Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), one of five moderate Republicans to join the majority of Democrats in approving the measure 226-202.
“The American Legion supported the bill, for God sakes,” added King, who was lobbied personally by White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. “If I’m marching in the Fourth of July parade and the local American Legion guy asks me why I didn’t vote for the troops, what am I going to say — I didn’t want money to go to the IMF? He doesn’t even know what the IMF is!”
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A somber Kerry was in no mood Wednesday to pronounce himself vindicated by the vote — but he told POLITICO that it should stop Republicans from using the support-our-troops line of attack against the Democrats anytime soon.
“They have to figure out whether they live up to their own standards or their own rhetoric — the rhetoric of supporting the troops,” the Massachusetts Democrat said. “Maybe they’ll end that kind of game forever now.”
Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) was less circumspect.
“This is part of their demagoguery,” said Frank, an anti-war Democrat who voted against the bill before he voted for it in order to support President Barack Obama’s IMF request. “In 1999 — when the Republicans had control [of the House] — they put [IMF funding] in the appropriations bill. It’s just hypocrisy. It makes nonsense of them ever accusing the Democrats of not supporting the troops.”
House Republicans dismissed those comments, saying that their opposition to the measure is based on a commitment to fiscal discipline — and that any attempt to portray them as soft on defense will be rejected by voters.
One-hundred-and-thirty-two Republicans voted against the supplemental in May 2008.
Boehner — who supported funding the IMF in 1998 — told POLITICO that Republicans had no choice but to oppose the bill because Democrats had “decided to play politics” with the conference report, larding it with billions in nonsecurity requests.
So would it be fair to say that — as Boehner once said of Democrats — he had voted against funding the troops?
“We’ve consistently supported clean funding bills for the troops,” Boehner said Wednesday. “Almost all of our members have a very clear record of supporting money for our troops. ... But to tack $108 billion in IMF funding on the backs of the troops — and put them in danger by declassifying detainee photos — was plain wrong. Those two issues put most of our members against the bill.”
But the GOP was deaf to such nuance in past years, when Democrats voted against similar bills in protest of the Bush administration’s Iraq strategy.
In 2005, Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) ripped Democrats who opposed the supplemental request, calling their position “immoral.” When war funding came up again in 2006, Cole took to the floor to say, “I would ask members to remember this is a vote about our willingness to support our servicemen and women and not about other policy issues.”
He voted no on the war funding Tuesday.
In 2007, a half-dozen House Republicans — Reps. Mike Castle of Delaware, Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, Jim Gerlach of Pennsylvania, Randy Kuhl of New York, Tom Petri of Wisconsin and Todd Platts of Pennsylvania — wrote to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), urging her to move quickly on that year’s emergency war funding bill.
“Our soldiers are risking their lives, and it is vital that we provide them with the tools and equipment they have requested,” they wrote. “When it comes to emergency funding for our soldiers, we cannot afford to waste precious time arguing over political proposals.”
During the 2008 campaign, Republican nominee John McCain repeatedly criticized Barack Obama and other Democratic candidates for voting against the war supplemental.
But the Arizona Republican told POLITICO on Tuesday that he’s leaning toward voting against the bill when it hits the Senate because of its inclusion of the cash-for-clunkers provision that provides federal subsidies for vehicle trade-ins.
“I’m leaning against it ... because we’ve got to get our spending under control,” said McCain. “But I’m still undecided because, obviously, we’ve got to get the money to our troops as fast as we can.”
Republicans are unlikely to lose their home-field advantage on defense issues, built up over the course of the past half-century, because of a single vote. Earlier this month, Rasmussen found that voters trusted the GOP over Democrats on defense matters by a 20-percentage-point margin.
But Democrats have already begun pounding individual members with “hypocrisy alerts” — and party strategists say they won’t be shy about accusing endangered Republican incumbents of playing politics with the lives of the troops.
And GOP insiders concede the vote could cause some short-term woes for a party that has struggled to find a consistent message.
“I think the battle is going to be to define the vote,” said a senior Republican strategist. “If we can do a good job of explaining that this was a vote for fiscal discipline, we’ll be fine. If they succeed in portraying this as a vote against the military, it will be a problem.”
Patrick O’Connor and Melanie Mason contributed to this story.