NDAA roundup: Afghanistan victory and budget ignominy
Last night, we saw years of committed organizing pay off, with the House of Representatives voting 305-121 supporting accelerated withdrawal from Afghanistan. Thank you so much to all of you who responded to our calls to action and put the pressure on Congress that made this victory possible!
We now have both houses of Congress on record in support of withdrawal, thanks to Sen. Merkley’s amendment last year. The New York Times called the vote a “stark example of changing sentiments on Afghanistan” and pointed out that it received more Republican votes than anything Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) has ever offered on the floor.
The strong statement made by this vote comes at a critical time, as the administration will soon make decisions about the post-2014 troop presence in Afghanistan. We thank all our allies in Congress who helped make this victory possible, including Reps. McGovern, Lee (D-CA), Jones (R-NC), Garamendi (D-CA) and Smith (D-WA).
The rest of the NDAA votes were not nearly so glorious, though the House laid down some important markers in ongoing debates about Pentagon spending and policy. As I wrote yesterday, many of the amendments we supported were blocked from coming to the floor. Some highlights of the votes that came up:
- In what should seem like a no-brainer, Reps. Blumenauer (D-OR), Mulvaney (R-SC) and Bentivolio (R-MI) offered an amendment to reduce the required number of aircraft carriers from 11 to 10—the number the navy currently has. Despite the common sense nature of this push for flexibility, the House voted it down, 106-318.
- The House passed the buck on sequestration, passing a bill more than $50 billion higher than the caps. Only 71 representatives voted for Rep. Nolan’s (D-MN) amendment to reduce the budget by 9.4%.
- The House Armed Services Committee added an extra $5 billion to the Overseas Contingency Operations account, which funds the war in Afghanistan. An amendment to remove that additional funding failed, 191-232.
- We are still spending huge amounts of money keeping troops stationed in Europe. The bipartisan Colorado team of Reps. Polis (D) and Coffman (R) joined Blumenauer (D-OR) and Griffith (R-VA) to offer an amendment to remove about 5,000 troops. It received 110 votes.
- In a voice vote, the House approved an amendment stating that nothing in the bill could be construed as authorizing military force in Iran. Reiterating this is key as we watch results from the Iranian election and face more pressure for military action against Iran from some corners.
- The House echoed the Senate in passing counterproductive language that encourages support for an Israeli attack on Iran. It was passed en bloc (when many amendments are combined together and voted on as a package).
- The House approved an amendment, offered by Republican Rep. Broun (GA), prohibiting targeting US citizens with drones unless they are actively engaged in combat against the US. This appears more stringent than the standards revealed in the little public information about the targeted killing program. It will be interesting to see if and how the Senate takes up this topic in their version of the NDAA.
- Unfortunately, there was no vote allowed on either amendment to sunset the Authorization for Use of Military Force in Afghanistan, which has been used to justify strikes around the world. However, there are two freestanding bills on the topic, and this gives us time to build support for them and educate members of Congress leading up to future votes.
- Not surprisingly given Republican rhetoric on the issue, the House rejected an amendment to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility 174-249. They also approved an amendment prohibiting funding for transferring detainees to Yemen, a crucial step in closing the facility, 236-188.
- They also rejected an amendment to change a troubling policy in the FY12 NDAA allowing indefinite detention of people detained under authority of the Authorization for Use of Military Force in the US or its territories, 200-226.
While some of these numbers might not seem particularly encouraging, they provide us important information about which members we need to bring around on these issues, so we can educate them and put pressure from their districts. There was a time when you could hardly scrounge up people to vote against the war in Afghanistan, and we blew expectations out of the water on that vote yesterday. There is much work left to be done, but we have a strong foundation for success.