On Troop Funding, What Goes Around Comes Around

(CBS/Karin Cooper)
Generally, Democrats have been the party on the defensive when it comes to who best "supports the troops." In the 2004 presidential campaign, for example, Republicans attacked Democratic nominee John Kerry for voting "against funding our soldiers."

Last night, however, it was the Republicans who were voting against "funding our soldiers" -- sort of. As part of their effort to stall health care legislation, Senate Republicans tried to filibuster a bill that included $626 billion for Pentagon spending. A stopgap funding measure was set to expire at the end of the day Friday. Only three Republicans voted to move the bill forward.

"It is inconceivable to me that such a situation would be permitted to occur with U.S. forces actively deployed in combat," Defense Secretary Robert Gates wrote in a letter to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (pictured) Thursday.

Now Democrats are trying to generate political capital from the situation, having been on the other side of the equation in the past. White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer wrote on the White House blog that it "the depth of the hypocrisy involved [on the part of Republicans] is stunning."

Pfeiffer pointed to comments made by Republicans in 2007, when Congress was debating the war in Iraq.

Among them was Sen. John Cornyn saying, "Playing politics with the critical funding that our troops need now is political theater of the worst kind." Also included is Sen. Jon Kyl arguing that "I don't understand this attitude of, 'We can play with; we can risk the lives of these troops by waiting until the last possible minute to get the funding to them."

Writes Pfeiffer: "Now though, as we debate not foreign policy but health care, the Department of Defense funding can wait? Incredible."

Meanwhile, Democratic Senators Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Mark Begich of Alaska held a press conference to further spotlight the situation.

"I found it interesting that so many of my Republican colleagues who were criticizing the president on dithering on his decisions decided that they weren't going to act and fund the troops," Reed said, according to CBS News producer John Nolen.

"Sixty Democrats along with three Republicans decided that the welfare of our military forces was more important than legislative gamesmanship here with respect to health care and other issues," he added.

Begich, for his part, said Republicans "are using the military, the soldiers as pawns in this political game."

McConnell defended Republicans at a press conference of his own Friday, pointing to scheduling by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in explaining the effort to delay the Pentagon funding bill.

"The majority leader's in charge of the schedule," he said. "He's the reason we're doing the defense bill in the middle of the health care debate."

"I think we've made it rather clear we're not going to expedite consideration of the health care bill," added McConnell.

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