House Democratic leaders Monday dropped President Obama’s request for $81 million to close the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, bowing to strong Republican criticism that the administration lacks a plan to relocate terror suspects detained there.
Mr. Obama requested the money as part a spending bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but Democratic appropriators left it out of the bill circulated Monday among House Appropriations Committee staffers.
Republicans have been criticizing Mr. Obama for rushing to keep his campaign promise to close the prison camp at the U.S. Navy base on Cuba without a plan for what to do with the roughly 240 terrorism suspects currently held on the island.
Closing the prison “just never stood up to logic. There is no place on the planet to take the worst of the worst that would treat them as well as they are treated at [Guantanamo],” said Rep. Steve King, Iowa Republican, who visited the facility a month ago.
“The bottom line really is that [if the prisoners are released], innocent people will die and some of them likely will be Americans,” he said.
Democratic leaders were not immediately available to comment.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, previously dismissed the Republicans’ objections as another example of partisan obstructionism by the minority.
“It would be highly irresponsible for Republicans to attempt to hold up funding as part of their just-say-no strategy,” Reid spokesman Jim Manley said.
Senate Democrats have not come out in support of using the war-spending bill to close the prison camp, a strong signal that the move by House appropriators could kill the funding in the bill.
The administration could still move forward with Mr. Obama’s promise to close the detention center by January 2010 and seek funding through another supplemental spending bill.
Lawmakers in both parties oppose bringing the prisoners to their states. Speculation about shipping the terror suspects to prisons in states including Florida, Montana and Virginia has met stiff resistance. A number of foreign countries also do not want to take the prisoners, either.
The White House has not announced where it intends to move the detainees.
The supplemental spending bill circulated Monday carried a price tag of about $94 billion, about $10 billion more than Mr. Obama requested.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, made a series of speeches in recent weeks blasting the president’s push to close the Guantanamo Bay camp.
Last week, House Majority Leader John Boehner, Ohio Republican, put out a Web video that asked: “What are Democrats doing to keep America safe?” It charged that Mr. Obama’s decision to close Guantanamo and end harsh interrogation techniques that some criticize as torture would put the United States at risk of another terror 9/11-type attack.
On the video, Michigan Rep. Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, says, “The real question we now face is, What is President Obama’s strategy to confront this threat from radical jihadists?”
About 100,000 viewers had visited the video Web site as of Monday, according to Mr. Boehner’s office.
On the Senate floor Monday, Mr. McConnell said the appropriate time for Congress to debate closing the prison camp is after “the administration has a plan to safely detain, prosecute, or transfer these detainees.”
“With no safe alternative, this is the only sensible approach,” he said.
The Defense Department has confirmed that 18 former detainees had returned to the battlefield and at least 40 more are suspected of having rejoined terrorist networks after being released from Guantanamo.