House passes stopgap funding bill to keep agencies open

The House approved a continuing resolution Wednesday to keep federal agencies operating at current levels until Nov. 16 on a 404-14 vote after Democrats voted to support a GOP-drafted amendment expressing support for Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq.

The motion by Appropriations ranking member Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., condemning "in the strongest possible terms" the recent ad by the anti-war group MoveOn.org, was approved on a 341-79 vote, after House Appropriations Chairman David Obey, D-Wis., endorsed the language and Democratic leaders released their members to support it.

Born into a Republican family "in the state of Joe McCarthy," Obey said one reason he switched parties was one of his teachers was impugned as a "Bolshevik" during the Red Scare. "To this day there's nothing that gets my dander up more than someone having their patriotism questioned," Obey said.

Just as he opposed McCarthyite tactics from the right, "I've got an obligation to be equally upset when that kind of juvenile attack emanates from the left," Obey said.

Not all Democratic leaders were supportive. Watching Obey's speech from the House press gallery, Rules Chairwoman Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., walked out in exasperation. "To me it's strictly a First Amendment issue," Slaughter said later. "If we can't stand up for the Constitution, who's going to?"

The Republican motion was designed to "make Democrats condemn one of their biggest campaign contributors," a GOP leadership aide said. A Democratic leadership aide dismissed the move as a "desperate attempt to keep the story alive."

A similar amendment passed the Senate, 72-25, during consideration of the fiscal 2008 defense authorization bill, and the House move could smooth Senate passage of the CR later this week.

The maneuvering came amid partisan rhetoric over the failure to approve the annual spending bills by the end of the fiscal year. The House passed all 12 bills, but the Senate has approved only four.

Bush and Democrats are at odds over $23 billion in spending, an amount Obey called "pretty small potatoes" compared with Bush's nearly $200 billion supplemental request for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Democratic sources say there might not be any action on the supplemental until early next year, since enough funding will be included in the fiscal 2008 Defense appropriations bill to pay for operations until then.

A spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said no decision has been made on that yet.

Bush has already asked for $150.5 billion, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates went before the Senate Appropriations Committee Wednesday afternoon to outline a need for $42.3 billion more. That includes $11 billion for another 7,000 mine-resistant vehicles; $9 billion to replace worn-out equipment and technology; $6 billion for additional equipment and training; $1 billion for facilities and bases, and $1 billion to train and equip Iraqi security forces.

The State Department was also expected to request additional funds.

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