The war supplemental for Afghanistan is expected to come back from the Senate to the House next week - without any kind of timetable for military withdrawal from Afghanistan, and without money to save teachers' jobs attached.
In a take-it-or-leave-it gesture, the Senate voted Thursday night to reject more than $20 billion in domestic spending the House had tacked on to its $60 billion bill to fund President Barack Obama's troop surge in Afghanistan.
The moves repel a long-shot bid by House Democrats earlier this month to resurrect their faltering jobs agenda with $10 billion in grants to school districts to avoid teacher layoffs, $5 billion for Pell Grants to low-income college students, $1 billion for a summer jobs program and $700 million to improve security along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Labor unions had strongly backed the House Democratic effort to attach money to the supplemental to boost employment and avoid teacher layoffs. Will these unions now urge House Democrats to vote no on any jobless war supplemental?
Few expect that the House, in a freestanding vote next week, would reject the $33 billion request for the Afghanistan war, since until now there has been a solid block of more than 90% of House Republicans committed to voting yes on what they would consider a "relatively clean" war supplemental.
In the next several weeks, Congress is likely to be asked to approve $33 billion more for the war in Afghanistan, mainly to pay for the current military escalation, whose focus is the planned assault on the Afghan city of Kandahar.
Some Members of Congress will vote no on the funding. A larger group of Members is likely to support efforts to pass language which would require an exit strategy or timetable for ending the war.
Barring some unforeseen event - like Afghan President Karzai joining the Taliban - an extrapolation from the recent past would suggest that neither efforts to block the funding, nor efforts to constrain it with real conditions, are likely to be narrowly "successful" in the short-run: extrapolating from the past, the most likely short-run legislative outcome is that the war money will be approved without conditions attached that would significantly constrain the war. This is especially true if 95% of Congressional Republicans continue to vote as a bloc to support the war.
Nonetheless, the fight over the war supplemental is tremendously important, because Congressional pressure can move Administration policy, even when critics of Administration policy don't command a majority of votes. This is especially true when, as in this case, critics are in the majority in the President's own party, and when, as in this case, the policy under pressure is an international policy which is also under significant international pressure.
If you could end the war in Afghanistan by making one phone call, would you make that call? Would you press 10 buttons to stop the wanton destruction of the lives of American soldiers and Afghan civilians?
I suspect that the majority of the literate adult population in the United States, if faced with that choice, would press 10 buttons to end the war.
Unfortunately, there isn't one phone call that will end the war. But there is a plausible chain of consequence that connects a phone call made to Congress today to ending the war in the foreseeable future.
In the next few days the House of Representatives is expected to debate and vote on a "privileged resolution" - H.Con.Res. 248 - introduced by Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich that would establish a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Afghanistan.
Last month, 60 Members of the House of Representatives, including 51 Democrats, voted against the war supplemental for Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. But this week, when the House is expected to consider the agreement of a House-Senate conference on the war funding, the supplemental could well be defeated on the floor of the House - if most of the 51 anti-war Democrats stick to their no vote - which they might, if they hear from their constituents.
The key thing that's changed is the Treasury Department's insistence that the war supplemental include a $100 billion bailout for the International Monetary Fund - a bailout for European banks facing big losses in Eastern Europe, the international version of the Wall Street bailout.
House Republicans, including Minority Leader John Boehner, have threatened to vote no on the war funding if the IMF money is attached. If Boehner could bring all the Republicans with him, and if all the Democrats who voted no last month voted no again, the war supplemental would fail on the floor of the House, 200-228.
But not every Democrat who voted no before will vote no now, and therein lies the drama. The House leadership didn't need those anti-war Democrats before, so in a way it was a "free vote" - 51 Democrats could vote on behalf of their anti-war constituents without running afoul of the leadership. But if Treasury insists on the IMF money, and Republicans vote no, the leadership will need 18 of those Democrats now.