Rep. John Conyers, frustrated by Congressional inaction towards the Afghanistan War, is forming a new Out of Afghanistan Caucus as a focal point for Congressional opposition to the continuing conflict. The action came as the death toll for American soldiers crept over the one thousand mark and conservative estimates place the cost of Afghanistan-Iraq at more than one trillion dollars.
According to a House source, the new caucus "creates a channel for members who are united against the war," after months in which the Congressional Progressive Caucus has not taken an oppositional stance. "There is a lot more conflict among Democratic members who don't want to oppose the Obama administration or who still believe this can be a humane war," the source added.
Six members signed on immediately to Conyers' proposal, and a staff director has been assigned, Michael Darner of Conyers' DC office. The potential for the Caucus' growth can be measured in the 87 sponsors of Rep. Jim McGovern's exit strategy legislation, HR 5015. The problem all year has been the lack of an effective anti-war caucus organizing effort within the House. The new Caucus might fill that need.
The action echoes the creation of the Out of Iraq Caucus by Rep. Maxine Waters in the early years of the Iraq War. That caucus was generated over the objections of House Democratic leadership and came to include over 70 members. Similarly, the new caucus has been formed without the official blessing of Speaker Nancy Pelosi at this point.
Pelosi declared last year that she would never again pressure members of her Democratic caucus to vote for Afghanistan supplemental funding. In addition, outgoing House Appropriations chair David Obey gave the Obama administration license for one year before serious choices would need to be made between war funding and other urgent budget priorities.
Those words will be tested soon since the Obama Administration and Senate Democrats are sending a supplemental funding package to the House containing not only $33 billion for the escalation but also a sweetener of $23 billion in funds to save teachers' jobs. In another replay of past budget battles, House Republicans are claiming they will refuse another bailout package, putting the onus for supporting the Afghanistan funding on the Democratic House majority. The new Caucus signals a desire by Conyers and others to draw the lines.