- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 7, 2009

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The Senate’s top appropriator Monday vowed to restore funding President Obama requested to close the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, challenging his own Democratic Party leaders who expressed skepticism about the administration’s plan.

“It’s going to be in the bill,” Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel K. Inouye told The Washington Times. “Something like this should be resolved in the conference.”

The Hawaii Democrat said the $81 million the White House wants to shut down the detention center at the U.S. Navy base in Cuba could come with conditions, such as withholding the money until Mr. Obama presents a plan for relocating the roughly 240 terrorist suspects locked up on the island.

House Democratic leaders left the requested money out of their version of a $94 billion supplemental spending bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, bucking the White House’s call for funding as it tries to make good on Mr. Obama’s promise to close Guantanamo Bay by January.

But the maneuver shored up Republican support critical to passing the bill and to avoid an embarrassing defeat for Mr. Obama at the hands of antiwar Democrats who will not support the additional funding primarily for military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Republicans, who have been searching for an issue that resonates with voters, hammered the Guantanamo Bay closure in recent weeks.

Democratic leaders also balked at the administration’s lack of a plan to relocate the prisoners, even though they agree that the prison has become a symbol of U.S. excesses during President George W. Bush’s war on terror.

“While I don’t mind defending a concrete program, I’m not much interested in wasting my energy defending a theoretical program,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman David R. Obey, Wisconsin Democrat.

Mr. Obey, who supports the idea of closing the facility, said that when White House officials develop a plan, “they are welcome to come back and talk to us about it.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said he agreed with Mr. Obey.

“It would be better if we had specifics,” Mr. Reid said, adding that he would be meeting with Mr. Inouye and House Democratic leaders to decide how to handle the funding request.

Mr. Inouye’s suggestion to make the funding conditional on the White House presenting a plan would go a long way toward satisfying critics on both sides of the aisle.

It also would threaten to stall the funds and force Mr. Obama to break his campaign promise to abandon the prison within a year.

“It should be clear to everyone at this point that the administration got ahead of itself by announcing an arbitrary closing date for Guantanamo before it even drew up a list of safe alternatives,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said in a floor speech Wednesday.

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