- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Senate Democrats broke Tuesday with President Obama over funds to close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, refusing to bankroll the project until the White House presents a plan for relocating hundreds of terrorism suspects imprisoned there.

“Democrats under no circumstances will move forward without a comprehensive, responsible plan from the president,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat. “We will never allowed a terrorist released into the United States.”

The announcement marked an abrupt retreat from Senate Democrats’ plan to give the president $81 million he requested to close the facility as part of a spending bill, which is now on the Senate floor, for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The reversal came amid sustained criticism by Republicans of transferring terrorist detainees from the U.S. Navy base in Cuba to the United States.

The version of the war spending bill already passed by the Democratic-controlled House also failed to provide any money for closing Guantanamo.

Mr. Reid supports Mr. Obama’s decision to close the facility, but said the $92 billion war supplemental bill is not the appropriate place to address it.

He deferred to the White House when asked where the detainees should go. “I think I’ve had about enough of this,” he told reporters at the Capitol after repeated questions on the matter.

Republicans have hammered the administration for Mr. Obama’s self-imposed deadline to close the facility by January. There is widespread resistance from lawmakers to bringing the prisoners to their home states and opposition from many foreign governments to taking custody of the detainees.

In a statement, the Obama administration called for quick passage of the supplemental spending bill, but was silent on the failure of both chambers to provide funds for closing Guantanamo.

Mr. Obama is scheduled to give a speech Thursday about the future of Guantanamo. Critics of the facility say it has become a global symbol of excesses in former President George W. Bush’s war on terror.

It was unclear how the congressional resistance would affect Mr. Obama’s speech. The White House is expected to push for the Guantanamo funds in upcoming regular appropriations bills for fiscal 2010.

Senate Republicans still plan to offer amendments to prohibit transferring about 240 Guantanamo detainees to the United States, arguing there is no place to put them and they will return to the battlefield if released.

Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, is offering an amendment to the supplemental to ensure that no funds are used to transfer or release a detainee in the United States.

“The Democrats keep going back and forth on this,” Mr. Inhofe said. “We feel united in wanting to do something to make sure we keep that resource down there, since there’s no alternative.”

Congressional leaders hope to get final approval for the war spending bill before adjourning Friday for a weeklong Memorial Day recess.

The decision by Mr. Reid to nix the Guantanamo funds followed negotiations with several key members of his caucus. He had been working with fellow Democrats to “understand their views, and any concerns, on the Guantanamo issue,” Reid spokesman Jim Manley said.

A growing chorus of Senate Democrats - including Jim Webb of Virginia, Jon Tester of Montana and Ben Nelson of Nebraska - has joined Republicans in opposing the transfer of terrorist detainees to the United States.

The House and Senate bills, which differ on the amount of money allocated and on specific spending items, must be reconciled and the final version approved by both chambers by Friday to get the legislation to Mr. Obama’s desk before the Memorial Day break.

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