Washington (CNN) - House Republicans pulled the plug on a vote Thursday on a bipartisan amendment to a defense bill that would force the Obama administration to stick firmly to its timetable for getting U.S. troops out of Afghanistan.
Republicans were concerned the amendment could pass, according to two GOP congressional sources. Instead, GOP members decided to allow limited debate on Afghanistan, but just on one amendment sponsored by California Democrat Barbara Lee that was guaranteed to fail. It would essentially end the war in Afghanistan by limiting funding to the "safe and orderly withdrawal" of U.S. troops.
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One of the Republican sources stressed that there were a combination of factors for not allowing a vote on the timetable proposal, including "a lack of White House engagement." GOP leaders expected a bloc of their own members to support the measure and they couldn't rely on the White House to lobby Democrats against it.
The source stressed Republicans didn't want to "roll the dice" and have a vote setting firm dates for the administration's war policy, which would expose significant reservations about the president's plan, which GOP leaders have largely supported.
Democratic Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, who pushed for the vote on the timetable amendment with North Carolina Republican Rep. Walter Jones, decried the decision to deny a vote on his proposal on Thursday. "What is the Republican leadership afraid of? Are they afraid a bipartisan majority of this House will vote to follow the will of the American people and change our Afghanistan policy?" he said.
McGovern explained that his amendment required the president to stand by his commitment to transition all combat operations to the Afghan government by the end of 2013 and complete the transition of all military and security operations by the end of 2014. It would have also required the administration to come back to Congress for approval if it wanted any troops to stay beyond 2014.
Jones told CNN he was confident the amendment would have passed. "That's the reason they didn't bring it up," he said.
He added that he talked to House Speaker John Boehner Wednesday night and urged him to allow a vote on it, and told Boehner he had "a lot of support" for the measure.
Boehner's office declined to comment on the matter.
Last year McGovern and Jones offered a similar amendment to the defense bill that would require the administration to give a detailed timetable, but that failed narrowly - 204-215, and the close vote surprised many in the Obama administration. Jones said that in addition to the 26 who voted for the measure last year he was told by colleagues he could get another seven or eight Republican votes, which could have potentially changed the outcome this time.
A frustrated Jones said he would try again to attach the language to the defense spending bill when it comes up. "This is supposed to be the people's House - that means we listen to the people. How about listening to the 72% of those who say get out of Afghanistan? We're stone deaf for whatever reason I don't understand."
Lee's amendment to withdraw troops was defeated 113-303, but it did demonstrate the willingness, again, for a significant number of Democrats to split with the president on his war policy - over a hundred Democrats voted for it.
Lee argued on the House floor, "It is time to say enough is enough. With almost 2,000 United States troops killed in Afghanistan and many tens of thousands more maimed with injuries both hidden and visible, we must recognize that the boots on the ground strategy in Afghanistan must end."
But Republicans countered that the California Democrat's amendment amounted to "getting out now" and could result in opening up the United States again to a terrorist attack.
New Mexico Republican Rep. Steve Pearce, who noted he flew combat missions in the Vietnam War in the early 1970s when Congress voted to restrict funding for that war, said Lee's amendment would signal to America's enemies that it was willing to abandon its troops on the ground.
A visibly agitated Pearce said, "I'm telling you as someone who was there during a time when Congress choked off the funds to people that were in harm's way, I had a burning anger and that anger burns today, and when I see this amendment and visualize the young men and women over there who you're cutting funds off and saying, 'We're going to leave you with an orderly and quiet withdrawal ...'" The New Mexico Republican maintained because of attacks by the enemy that kind of withdrawal is "not humanly possible."