For the Want of Three Votes

The vote in the House of Representatives last Thursday (July 1, 2010) approved $33 billion more for Barack Obama’s escalation of the war in Afghanistan. Most accounts of the vote in the progressive media viewed the vote positively, focusing on the various anti-war amendments that failed, but got sizable votes. The one with broadest support (162 “Yes” votes) would have required Obama to produce an exit plan. Its sponsors included Democrats David Obey (WI) and Jim McGovern (MA). Another would have funded the exit of the troops. It was sponsored by Democrat Barbara Lee (CA) and got 100 “Yes” votes. An even stronger anti-war amendment, however, got only 25 “Yes” votes.

But these progressive media accounts looking primarily at the breadth of support for the exit plan amendment have overlooked a couple of key numbers that reveal an entirely new view of the votes on the bill and its amendments.

The first key number is the vote on the main bill itself. Because all of the GOP voted against it in order to reject the domestic spending sweetners added by Nancy Pelosi, this vote was much closer. It passed by 215 to 210. If only 3 more “Yes” voters would have voted “No”, the funding bill would have failed (by 212 “Yes” vs. 213 “No”). Failure of the bill to pass would have been an earthquake in US politics.

The other key number overlooked by most progressive media accounts of the vote was this: enough leading anti-war Democrats voted for the actual funding bill that they could have defeated it had they voted “No”. Among leading anti-war Democrats, which ones voted for the war funding?

First, Barbara Lee voted for the war funds. She represents Berkeley, California, and part of Oakland. Being from this heavily anti-war district, many anti-war activists assume she votes against all war funding bills. She has been a heroine-of-sorts of the anti-war movement for years.

Next, we have the Out of Afghanistan Caucus, started in May 2010 by John Conyers. In the morning on the day of the vote, the caucus held a press conference to urge a NO vote on the war funding. Five of the eight Democrats conducting this press conference actually voted for the war funding that evening, after participating in the press conference about voting “No”! Conyers, Bob Filner (CA), and Alan Grayson (FL) voted “No”; voting “Yes” were Sheila Jackson Lee (TX), Maxine Waters (CA), Mike Honda (CA), Judy Chu (CA), and Barbara Lee.

Next, we can look at the Democratic sponsors of the various anti-war amendments to the bill.

We would expect these Democrats to not only sponsor their anti-war amendments, but to also vote against the final war funding bill itself. But all three of the Democrat anti-war amendment co-sponsors mentioned above voted for the final war funding bill: David Obey (WI), Jim McGovern (MA), and Barbara Lee (CA).

Finally, we should mention Pete Stark, another San Francisco Bay Area Democrat. While he tends to keep a low profile, he often actually casts more progressive votes than Barbara Lee.

(For example, he was one of the few “No” votes in the House vote on heavier sanctions against Iran, which passed by 408-8 on June 24. Barbara Lee voted for those sanctions.) Even Pete Stark voted FOR the Afghan war funding last week.

If just three of these leading anti-war Democrats had switched their vote to “No” on the Afghan war funding bill, it would have failed. This would have given the anti-war movement a huge boost, even if war-funder-in-chief Nancy Pelosi had organized another vote and courted Republican support to guarantee its passage. Such a scenario would have exposed the Democratic leadership as co-equal pillars of the war (which they are), along with the GOP and the Democrat in the White House. Instead, when they had a golden opportunity to defeat the war funding bill, our leading “anti-war” Democrats betrayed us.

GREGORY VICKREY is a consultant in the nonprofit and political arenas and may be reached at gregory@gregoryvickrey.com.


1. The roll call vote on the war funding bill which passed by 215-210 is here; check to see how your representative voted: http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2010/roll428.xml .





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Gregory Vickrey is a consultant in the environmental and political arenas and may be reached at: gregory@gregoryvickrey.com.

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