Defense Bill Showdown Has Leaders Scrambling

Posted June 3, 2009 at 6:04pm

Democratic and Republican leaders and the White House were duking it out Wednesday in high-stakes brinkmanship over funding for the International Monetary Fund, with both parties preparing for a vote on the House floor as early as Friday.

The $108 billion IMF loan package attached to the $90-billion-plus war supplemental is a priority of President Barack Obama, but has been adamantly opposed by House Republican leaders, who are whipping their Members hard to bring down the war bill if the IMF funding stays in it.

House Democratic leaders are trying to line up support, hoping they can get 18 of the 51 anti-war Democrats who voted against the war bill initially to back it now.

They may not need that many if Republican leaders can’t persuade the rank and file, who are reluctant to vote against a war funding bill, which would open them up to attacks that they are delaying funding for the troops.

Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) said leadership would have a hard sell if they ask GOP Members to vote against the Defense supplemental.

“A lot of Members are still going to be inclined to support a defense supplemental,— Kirk said.

And Rep. Bill Young (Fla.), the ranking Republican on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, said it would be hard for him to vote against the bill as well because he has always tried to support the troops and has always backed IMF funding in the past.

But Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who had charged Tuesday that IMF money could end up in the hands of “terrorists,— told reporters at a Wednesday morning news conference that the “global bailout— didn’t make sense, given the current condition of the U.S. economy.

“We will be very much in opposition to this bill if the majority inserts a $108 billion request for funding on the backs of our troops,— Cantor said. Asked whether the bill would be whipped, Cantor said, “We will fight as much as we can against [the IMF provision], yes.—

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) said leadership would have no problem whipping the vote and that it was unacceptable to give the large sum of money to the IMF and have it possibly end up in the hands of Hezbollah.

“We are drowning in debt,— Rogers said. “They should be ashamed of themselves.—

House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) dismissed the talk of terrorists getting the money as false and “demagogic.—

The IMF loans, which the Congressional Budget Office has scored at $5 billion, has been pledged by Obama to help developing nations deal with the worldwide recession.

Frank said he is switching his vote to yes and is urging other Democrats to do the same. Frank said additional changes to the IMF funding language should appeal to liberal lawmakers because money will be reserved to help the poorest countries. But he conceded that he wasn’t sure that there are enough votes to pass the bill.

Other liberal leaders haven’t yet budged. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) said she still would not vote for any war-funding bill except one that paid for a withdrawal of troops.

One option that has been employed in the past — splitting up the vote into different titles so liberals could vote for the IMF funding but not the war funding — isn’t likely because Democratic leaders are worried they don’t have the votes to pass the IMF money on its own without the cover of voting for the troops.