By Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
A bill to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has turned into a major legislative challenge on Capitol Hill, as members press President Obama from the left and the right on a number of fronts: the logistics of closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, the release of photos showing abuse of detainees and a proposed loan to the International Monetary Fund.
The vote on the bill was delayed last week, and House Democratic aides said yesterday they are still trying to round up enough votes to pass the provision. The bill, which costs about $100 billion, would fund the wars through September.
Despite the discord, the legislation ultimately is likely to pass, but there are numerous obstacles to overcome.
The tension over the spending request, which Obama sent to Congress in April, illustrates continued conflicts between the president and both parties in Congress. Obama's speech last month on national security, including a defense of his proposal to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, did not silence the debate.
House Democrats are looking to strip the bill of a provision, backed by the Senate, that would sidestep the Freedom of Information Act and bar the release of photos showing abuse of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama angered some critics on the left last month when he reversed a decision to release the photos.
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), one of the authors of the photo ban, said yesterday he would look to block the bill in the Senate if the ban was not included.
Meanwhile, another House bloc of Democrats remains concerned about the deployment of 21,000 more troops in Afghanistan, which is at the center of Obama's policy on the war. And House Republicans are sharply opposing an increase in U.S. aid to the International Monetary Fund. House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) dubbed the proposal a "global bailout."
Members of both parties oppose a renewed effort by the Obama administration to get backing for its plan to close the military prison at Guantanamo. Ninety senators voted against the plan a few weeks ago.
"It's a mess," Graham said of the bill, partially faulting the "demagoguery" of legislators from both parties who have suggested that bringing Guantanamo detainees to the United States would constitute a major security risk.
The House passed the first version of the bill last month with almost unanimous support among Republicans, who back Obama's proposals on Iraq and Afghanistan.
But a provision to offer a $100 billion line of credit to the IMF, which the Senate added at Obama's request, has generated nearly unanimous opposition from House Republicans.
"A war funding bill should be about war funding and nothing else," said Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.). "It's unconscionable Democrats are passing a global bailout on the backs of our soldiers."
The additional IMF funding, which the Congressional Budget Office estimates will cost the U.S. government $5 billion because the loans would be repaid, has sent House Democrats scurrying for votes among their own members.
In addition, a bloc of 51 House Democrats, who largely oppose the increase in troops and Afghanistan and are skeptical of the president's plan there, voted against the initial bill. Democrats need more than a dozen legislators from that bloc to vote for the final bill in the House for it to pass.
But Democrats could lose more votes if they include the photo ban.
Several were like Rep. Louise M. Slaughter (D-N.Y.), who said she opposed the ban because it would override the Freedom of Information Act. "I don't want to suspend the Freedom of Information Act, transparency is so important," she said. "I see no reason to suspend it."
Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), who joined Graham's effort to ban the pictures, said yesterday: "To release the photos is, to me, sheer voyeurism. It's a disclosure without a purpose, and it's disclosure that brings great risk."
The administration is focusing on the debate over what risk is posed by the detainees themselves if they are brought to the United States.
Despite a 90 to 6 defeat on Guantanamo Bay a few weeks ago, administration officials are working with Congress to change the language of the Senate version of the funding bill, which effectively bans any use of federal funds for incarceration or transfer of detainees from the prison. That language could bar the administration from bringing detainees to the United States for trial, as it did yesterday with the transfer from Guantanamo to New York of Ahmed Ghailani. He faces capital charges in the 1998 East Africa bombings.
"The administration has made the decision to begin transferring these terrorists in the United States, in spite of the overwhelming opposition of the American people and serious questions from members of Congress of both parties," Boehner said.
But some of the Democrats who voted for the original Guantanamo bill are now signaling openness to finding a way to make sure the administration can try detainees, though most lawmakers still do not want the prisoners in their districts.
"We have to find ways to resolve this issue," said Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), who voted against funding Obama's Guantanamo Bay proposal last month.