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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

More “Funding the Troops” Bunk

Democrats are running an attack ad in Washington, D.C., and nationally on cable networks that says Republicans "delayed funding for our men and women in uniform, then they voted against it." But it’s not true. Senate Republicans did delay a vote on military funding, as part of their strategy to drag out the fight against health care legislation. But the funding itself wasn’t delayed. And ultimately, Republicans voted overwhelmingly to approve the defense funds.

The Democratic National Committee ad accuses Republicans of being "willing to go … far enough to deny funding and equipment for our troops in harm’s way." It shows video of armored vehicles and troops in desert fatigues, with one soldier holding a small child in his arms. This sort of attack has become a staple of wartime politics, and both parties have at times strained to paint the other as being callous toward U.S. troops in the field.

President George W. Bush leveled a misleading accusation against his opponent in 2004, accusing Democratic Sen. John Kerry of voting against "body armor for troops in combat," and a liberal group ran false ads in 2006 and again in 2008 accusing GOP senators of doing the same thing. This ad also goes over the line.

First some background: Congress failed to pass all appropriations bills by Sept. 30, the end of fiscal year 2010. Because of this, the Defense Department and some others have been operating on stop-gap funding measures that extended the previous year’s budget for a few months. This year’s delay is hardly unique — in 2005, National Public Radio noted that the same thing had occurred the previous nine years. This year the Pentagon’s funding was scheduled to run out on Friday Dec. 18 at midnight, just as the Senate was planning to debate health care. However, White House Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag sent word that funding would not lapse so long as the appropriations was approved Saturday, Dec. 19.

A defense appropriations bill was ready for a full vote before the original deadline, but Republican senators signaled that they would mount a filibuster against it. The move was an attempt to slow down the debate on health care. Republican Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas flatly said, "I don’t want health care." That forced all 60 members of the Democratic caucus to cast a 1 a.m. vote to cut off debate. Some Democrats were furious: "If Democrats did that, there would be cries of treason," said Senate Democratic Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois. The ad claims that Republicans "voted against" funding, and it’s true that 33 Republicans voted against cutting off their filibuster. But the fact is that only nine GOP senators voted against final passage of the funding measure, while 30 voted in favor. The funding bill was passed on Saturday morning by a vote of 88 – 10.

And "funding for men and women in uniform" was not in fact "delayed." The Senate passed the measure at 8:09 a.m., and the White House announced just after noon that President Obama had signed it into law. Tanks kept rolling and that child-cuddling G.I. got his paycheck.

After we posted the piece, we received a response from the DNC that said in part: "We stand 100% behind this ad. … [It] is not only factually correct – it ought to make Republicans think twice in the future about playing politics with our troops and health care reform."