House acts to block closing of Gitmo

In blow to Obama, ban on detainee-transfer funds part of spending bill

BUDGETEER: Rep. David R. Obey, Wisconsin Democrat and Appropriations Committee chairman, wrote the House version of the spending bill. (Associated Press)BUDGETEER: Rep. David R. Obey, Wisconsin Democrat and Appropriations Committee chairman, wrote the House version of the spending bill. (Associated Press)
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Congress on Wednesday signaled it won’t close the prison at Guantanamo Bay or allow any of its suspected terrorist detainees to be transferred to the U.S., dealing what is likely the final blow to President Obama’s campaign pledge to shutter the facility in Cuba.

The move to block the prison’s closure was written into a massive year-end spending bill that passed the House on Wednesday evening on a vote of 212-206, part of a last-minute legislative rush by Democrats to push through their priorities before ceding the House to Republican control in January.

News of the Guantanamo provision brought a quick and sharp rebuke from the Obama administration Wednesday.
 
“We strongly oppose this provision,” Department of Justice spokesman Matt Miller said in a statement. “Congress should not limit the tools available to the executive branch in bringing terrorists to justice and advancing our national security interests.”

Current law allows the Justice Department to bring detainees to the U.S. for trial as long as the Justice Department gives Congress 45 days notice of the transfer.

The spending bill, which includes wide-ranging new regulations on food safety and shifts money to Democratic priorities, even as it also blocks the Guantanamo Bay transfers, is already two months overdue as Democrats have struggled to find ways to balance their policy preferences with the deteriorating fiscal condition of the government.

** FILE ** In this Tuesday, June 27, 2006, photo reviewed by the U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. military guards walk within the Camp Delta detention center at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File)

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** FILE ** In this Tuesday, June 27, 2006, photo reviewed by ... more >

The spending bill freezes 2011 funding at the same level as 2010, or $1.09 trillion, which is less than Mr. Obama requested, but still more than Republicans wanted.

“I hope it does not represent too great an inconvenience to members of this body, who are much more comfortable providing budget-busting tax gifts to the economic elite in this country,” said a bitterly sarcastic Rep. David R. Obey, the Wisconsin Democrat who wrote the bill as chairman of the Appropriations Committee.

The bill now heads to the Senate, which is working on its own version of legislation to keep the government funded for the rest of fiscal 2011.

Republicans had pushed to cut spending to 2008 levels — before the stimulus package or the Wall Street bailouts — which they said would have reduced expenditures by $100 billion. They also said the Democratic bill undercuts important defense-spending needs.

“At a time when we should be supporting our troops, this bill uses defense funding as a piggy bank for the majority’s domestic priorities,” said Rep. Jerry Lewis of California, the ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee.

Democrats said they already had to make cuts in important programs and needed to add funding to other priorities, such as Pell Grants to aid low-income college students.

The 423-page spending bill was released overnight, or less than 24 hours before House lawmakers were asked to vote on it.

Under the bill, the Defense Department would see a slight increase in funding for troop salaries and health benefits, while cuts would be made to domestic agencies.

Democratic leaders also tacked on a food-regulation bill that would give the government power to force food recalls. The measure passed the Senate last week but, because it deals with revenue, it ran afoul of the Constitution, which says all such measures must originate in the House. Tacking it onto the spending bill is a controversial way of speeding that process.

Mr. Obey was able to increase spending on some programs by shifting funding from agencies that saw one-time increases in 2010. For example, the end of the 2010 census allowed Mr. Obey to shift $7.7 billion away from that agency.

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