Pelosi can't promise Afghan war funds by July

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Thursday she could not promise that lawmakers would approve funding by early next month for President Barack Obama’s Afghan troop increase.

Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi listens to the media during a news conference in Kabul May 9, 2010. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

Obama asked Congress in February for $33 billion to help pay for 30,000 additional troops he is sending to Afghanistan this year. The Senate approved the money in May, adding some domestic disaster relief as well.

But the measure stalled in the House amid growing doubts about the Afghanistan conflict, and other funding demands in a time of scarcity.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Dave Obey, who said last year that adding more U.S. troops to Afghanistan was “a fool’s errand,” has not asked the panel to vote on the bill.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates urged Congress this week to approve the money by the U.S. July 4 holiday if possible, to avoid the Pentagon having to juggle accounts and possibly lay off civilians later in the summer.

“That was our hope,” she told a news conference when asked about House action by then. “Hope that will be soon. But I don’t want to give any dates, because then you’ll say I didn’t make the date.”

She sought to assign some blame for the uncertainty to minority Republicans, most of whom supported the Afghan troop increase. Pelosi said the Republicans were now looking for an “excuse” to oppose the funding bill.

The war funding faces opposition from a vocal liberal Democratic minority that wants out of Afghanistan. The critics say concern about the war is growing, fueled by a slowdown in U.S. operations and Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s role.

“I think there’s going to be a fight when it comes to the funding,” said Democratic Representative James McGovern, who wants Obama to provide an exit strategy for Afghanistan.

Mounting worry about the U.S. budget crunch complicates matters. The cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars has topped $1 trillion since 2001. The U.S. deficit is projected at $1.56 trillion this year.

Some Republicans have expressed concern that Democrats will try to add domestic spending to the war funding bill.

In a letter on Thursday to Vice President Joe Biden, House Republicans Jerry Lewis and Rodney Frelinghuysen said they would consider the administration’s request for more money to maintain nuclear weapons but hoped Biden would push Democrats to stop adding unrelated spending to the war funding bill.

Additional reporting by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Peter Cooney