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By Adriel Bettelheim May 19, 2008

In protest, Obama voted against

Responding to Sen. Barack Obama's assertions that he is shortchanging veterans by opposing a Democratic plan to expand education aid, Sen. John McCain's camp is depicting the Illinois senator as a lawmaker who has already voted against a key war funding measure that would have improved health services for veterans.

On May 12, 2008, McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds singled out Obama's May 24, 2007 vote against a fiscal 2007 emergency war spending measure to support ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, saying it violated Obama's oft-stated dictum that it would be irresponsible to vote against funding troops in the field.

"It is absurd for Barack Obama to question John McCain's commitment to America's veterans when Obama himself voted against our nation's veterans and troops in the field during a time of war," Bounds said.

The McCain campaign went on to release a factually accurate breakdown of nearly $1.8-billion worth of veterans health funding provisions in the $120-billion bill, including $595-million for medical facilities, $326-million of construction funding for Veterans Administration-identified needs, $250-million for administration of the VA health system and separate line items for mental health services, counseling, trauma support teams, prosthetics and rehabilitation programs.

It's important to note that Obama didn't explicitly oppose any of this spending. Rather, he got involved in a contentious battle over whether to include language in the bill that would set a timetable for combat troop withdrawals from Iraq. Democratic leaders in the House and Senate initially viewed the addition of this condition as an effective way of challenging the Bush administration's war policies. But they soon backed down in the face of staunch GOP opposition, worried that they would be accused of delaying needed aid to troops in the field by not sending Bush a bill he could sign quickly.

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On May 2, Bush vetoed an earlier spending draft that contained timetables for troop withdrawals, saying it "infringes upon the powers vested in the Presidency by the Constitution."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said Democrats could try again when Congress took up a fiscal 2008 defense authorization bill. But Obama and 13 other holdouts (in all, 10 Democrats, three Republicans and one independent) registered their displeasure with a "clean" funding bill that didn't address troop withdrawals by voting against the measure. "We should not give the president a blank check to continue down this same, disastrous path," Obama said in a statement on the day of the vote.

Obama has, in fact, shown an interest in improving military benefits, working in the spring of 2005 to insert language in a defense authorization bill reversing a policy that required soldiers receiving outpatient care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center to pay for meals.

Through his proxies, McCain fails to put Obama's vote in the proper context, so we cannot rate this statement True. Still, even though Obama had his reasons, the fact remains that he voted against the bill, which leads us to conclude that McCain's statement is Mostly True.

Our Sources

Barack Obama campaign website, Obama remarks on veterans, May 12, 2008

McCain Press Release, "Senators McCain, Graham and Burr Express Concern Over Bill That Could Harm Reenlistment Rates," May 9, 2008

Congressional Budget Office, "Preliminary Estimate of Cost for S 22" May 8, 2008

Josh Rogan and David Clarke, "Blue Dogs Force Delay of War Bill," CQ Today, May 7, 2008

New York Times "Congress Weighs Veterans Adjustment Aid," by Carl Hulse, May 7, 2008

Obama Press Release, "Obama Votes to Demand Changed Course in Iraq," May 24, 2007

Liriel Higa and Josh Rogan, "Democrats Abandon War Deadline," CQ Today, May 22, 2007

David Clarke, "Search for a Supplemental Compromise," CQ Weekly, May 7, 2007

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