Conservative Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett of Frederick and liberal Democratic Rep. Donna Edwards of Prince Georges County--the ideological bookends of the state's congressional delegation--were the only Marylanders to vote against a $106 billion measure to insure continued military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The measure was approved relatively narrowly this evening, by a vote of 226 to 202. House leaders scrambled to persuade reluctant Democrats to support it, after Republicans defected en masse.
Edwards' "no" vote was consistent with her earlier opposition to the measure when it came before the House several weeks ago. Elected as an antiwar candidate, Edwards has been an outspoken critic of President Barack Obama's policy in Afghanistan.
The measure provides about $80 billion for defense activities in Iraq and Afghanistan through the end of September.
Bartlett, like most House Republicans, flip-flopped, joining 32 Democratic liberals in opposing the measure. Only five Republicans voted "yes" today, while most opposed a measure that they had supported last month.
Bartlett, who prizes himself on political independence, was snubbed last week by party leaders in the House. They passed him over for a powerful Armed Services Committee position in favor of a fellow Republican with less seniority that some leaders saw as a better spokesman for their party.
The Republican who got the leadership post Bartlett had sought, Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon of Los Angeles, contended that Democrats were endangering troops by shifting money to create room for a "global bailout loan program" in the supplemental spending measure that won approval today.
Republicans voted against legislation that primarily went for national defense. It contained funding for uniformed troops in combat zones, $534 million in bonuses for military personnel whose enlistments have been involuntarily extended and $2.17 billion for eight C-17 transport planes. In addition, there was $7.7 billion for Swine Flu preparations and $1 billion for a "cash-for-clunkers" plan.
The main reason for Republican opposition: the revised measure also contained $5 billion in International Monetary Fund aid to poor countries.
Republicans also objected to the removal of a provision that would prohibit the release of pictures that show U.S. troops abusing detainees. Obama has promised he would not allow the photos to be made public.Congress added the IMF money, at Obama's request, in order to make good on the president's pledge, on his first overseas trip, that the United States would contribute to the global anti-recession fund.
Bartlett opposed the measure because the provision dealing with detainees photos had been removed and because "more than $28.7 billion of non-war spending" was included that was not offset by spending reductions elsewhere, said Lisa Wright, a spokeswoman. "Overall, the legislation exceeded the President's original request by $20.9 billion or 24.6%."
Most of that money was added at Obama's request, however, for the IMF and to prepare for the Swine Flu pandemic.
Democrats, using the sort of language that Republicans employed during President George W. Bush's administration when the shoe was on the other foot, attacked the national-security credentials of Republicans who voted against the emergency funding legislation.
House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland, in a floor speech near the close of debate, said that Republicans "have attacked the IMF with arguments that are downright demagogic—arguments that, if taken seriously, would leave the world a much less stable place.
"They are wrong to argue that this money could go to Iran, Venezuela, Burma, Zimbabwe, or even Hezbollah. Iran, Venezuela, Burma, and Zimbabwe do not currently borrow from the IMF, and they have not borrowed recently. Zimbabwe even had its IMF voting rights suspended. And the IMF stated categorically that it has not negotiated with Hezbollah on a loan—an outcome that is, in any case, even less likely after this week's election in Lebanon. Further, if the IMF were even to consider a loan to one of those unsavory states, the United States and its allies could block it. The U.S. alone controls more than 17% of all IMF votes, a number based on our contributions to the IMF. And legislation like this only strengthens our influence there."
Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Montgomery County said that Obama and the Democratic-led Congress "are committed to providing for our troops and their families." He noted that the measure approved by the House today "allows the extension of the new GI-Bill benefits to children of members of the armed forces who die while on active duty."
Added Van Hollen, in a statement released after the vote, "Congress is working with President Obama every day to keep our nation safe – the Supplemental Conference Report passed today is a key piece of that effort. We urge Republicans to join us in this effort instead of just saying no."
Aside from Edwards and Bartlett, the House members from Maryland, all Democrats, voted in favor of the war funding bill today, as they did in May.