House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has a problem: finding the votes to pass what could be a $33 billion supplemental spending bill to pay for the war in Afghanistan.
“On war votes, Members make their own decisions,” the speaker said. “At the end of this week, we’ll have a better idea (of where we stand).”
Pelosi and four other female Democrats just returned from a whirlwind, 100-hour trip to Afghanistan where they spoke with troops, toured the country’s mountainous, rural provinces and met with Afghan leader Hamid Karzai.
Karzai is now in Washington for more meetings with President Obama and Congressional leaders, including Pelosi. But many U.S. officials are concerned about Karzai’s fitness to lead, corruption in the Afghan government, drug trafficking and America’s military commitment to the fractured country. In fact, many lawmakers are reluctant to spend additional money on Afghanistan that would extend the U.S. military involvement there.
“I think he understands full-well how important (success) is to us,” said Pelosi. “We’re only there for our national security.”
One lawmaker whose vote may be in play is one of the women who joined Pelosi on the overseas jaunt: Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD).
“I have been very skeptical about the vision that’s been laid out,” said Edwards of America’s goals in Afghanistan. “I will make an independent decision (on voting for the spending bill).”
Two years ago, Pelosi had to bifurcate a vote to continue funding military operations in Iraq. Many anti-war Democrats were loathe to spend more money there. But Pelosi and other Democratic leaders knew they couldn’t just cut off the troops serving there. So they had to give anti-war Democrats a vote expressing their reservations about spending more money in Iraq, while simultaneously voting to extend the war effort.
“There will be more questions than usual,” said Del. Madeleine Bordallo (D-GU), Guam’s non-voting representative to Congress who accompanied the speaker on the trip. “We will probably have a little more difficulty getting members.”
Pelosi says she is emphasizing four points with Karzai: security, improved governance, ensuring that the Afghan people reap the benefits of an enhanced government structure and curbing corruption.
Pelosi signaled called corruption there “systemic.”
“We’re at a critical moment,” Pelosi said of U.S. relations with Afghanistan, indicating that the U.S. financial commitment is massive. “We don’t want to squander any of it.”
Pelosi says she hopes the Senate votes on the supplemental spending legislation first. But her hope is for the House to tackle the issue before Memorial Day.