- The Washington Times - Friday, May 15, 2009

New money to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan won passage in the House and cleared a key Senate committee Thursday, but fierce debate continued over whether to provide money for President Obama’s plan to close the terrorist detention camp at Guantanamo Bay.

The House overwhelmingly approved a $97 billion supplemental spending bill that did not include $81 million requested by Mr. Obama to make good on his promise to shutter the detention center at a U.S. Navy base in Cuba by January.

The 368-60 vote demonstrated bipartisan support for President Obama’s war spending, even though Democrats added $11.8 billion to the president’s $85 billion request. Nine Republicans joined 51 mainly anti-war Democrats in voting against the bill.

On the other side of the Capitol, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a $91 billion war spending bill for the remainder of the current fiscal year, which included the money to close Guantanamo but would require the administration to present a plan for relocating the prisoners before it can cash the check.

Republicans are expected to offer amendments on the Senate floor to block the funds and prohibit transferring Guantanamo detainees to the United States.

The votes came as Defense Secretary Robert M.Gates was on Capitol Hill for a second straight day outlining the Pentagon’s budget request for the 2010 fiscal year that starts Oct. 1. Mr. Gates told a Senate hearing he still backed a missile defense system, but also defended cuts in weapons systems and programs popular with members of both parties.

The decision to strip the Guantanamo money from the House version of the bill reflected unwillingness by many Democrats to take the political heat for Mr. Obama’s pledge without plans to relocate about 240 terror suspects currently locked up on the island.

But top Democrats also said the war spending bill showed the changed priorities on defense and foreign policy brought on by Mr. Obama’s election.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, an outspoken critic of President George W. Bush’s war-spending bills, said Mr. Obama’s first bill marked a turning point.

“History will look back at the Iraq war as a tragic miscalculation that cost America far too many lives, far too much money, and distracted us from the real fight against terrorism for far too long,” the speaker said. “Today, the House begins to close this sad chapter in our history, to end the war in Iraq and to refocus on the real fight against terrorism in Afghanistan.”

The House and Senate versions of the bill closely adhere to Mr. Obama’s funding formula for military operations and diplomatic missions related to the war effort. But the House added more money for military equipment, including cargo planes and various armored fighting vehicles.

The House also added $500 million to Mr. Obama’s request for $1.5 billion to prepare for a pandemic flu outbreak.

Congressional Republicans, who have been searching for an issue that resonates with voters, have hammered away at the plan to close Guantanamo 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 an international symbol of U.S. excesses during Mr. Bush’s war on terror.

Sen. Christopher S. Bond of Missouri, ranking Republican on the Select Intelligence Committee, said the president is a long way from solving the problem of what to do with Guantanamo detainees, a question that also stumped the Bush administration.

Mr. Obama put “satisfying a campaign promise ahead of national security,” Mr. Bond said. “Sending these terrorists back to the battlefield isn’t an option. … Sending these terrorists to American communities isn’t an option, either.”

Lawmakers in both parties oppose moving the prisoners to their states. Speculation about shipping the terror suspects to prisons in Florida, Montana and Virginia, among other states, has met stiff resistance. Several foreign governments have rejected taking the prisoners.

The Defense Department has confirmed that 18 former detainees had returned to the battlefield and that at least 40 more are suspected of having rejoined terrorist networks after being released from Guantanamo.

The White House has not announced where it intends to send the detainees.

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