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US Democrats: pay for wars, not for closing prison

US Democrats: pay for wars, not for closing prison

Amid fears that terror suspects could be brought to the United States, Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives rebuffed on Monday the Obama administration's request for $50 million to relocate prisoners from the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, a Democrat, dropped the request from a $94.2 billion bill to finance military and diplomatic efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan until late this year.
The prisoner relocation allotment would have been a minute portion of President Barack Obama's request, but small as it is it has inflamed Congress and given Republicans an opening with which to bash Obama. Many Democrats also were skittish about the political danger of voting to bring terror suspects into the United States.
At the same time, Obey served notice that Obama's move to boost troop levels and increase the tempo of military operations in Afghanistan had better show results or else he would rethink his support of the effort.
The bill, which was released to selected lawmakers Monday, registers about $9 billion more than Obama's $84.9 billion request, reflecting additional money for procurement of cargo planes, armored combat vehicles, helicopters and other items. About $3 billion was added above Obama's $7 billion request for foreign aid accounts, including security aid to Israel, funding to help Mexico fight drug cartels and $100 million to fight AIDS and other diseases in places including Haiti and Congo.
Obey also boosted the administration's $1.5 billion request to fight influenza to $2 billion.
The administration has yet to develop a plan to carry out Obama's executive order to close the Guantanamo Bay facility by early next year. The Pentagon has not said how many of the 240 or so detainees still there would be transferred to the United States or where they would be held. About 50 to 100 detainees would be shipped to this country, according to Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Last week, Gates told lawmakers that the $50 million request for relocating the detainees was simply a "plug in the budget" that was just "a hedge that would allow us to get started if some construction is needed to be able to accommodate those detainees."
That degree of uncertainty, combined with not-in-my-backyard politics, made it an easy call for Obey to omit the request.
"When they have a plan, they're welcome to come back and talk to us about it," Obey said.
Top Republicans such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have suggested that holding terror detainees in the United States would represent a security threat.
"The American people want to keep the terrorists at Guantanamo out of their neighborhoods and off of the battlefield," McConnell said. He urged Obama to reconsider his time line for emptying the Guantanamo Bay prison just as he has reconsidered his deadline for ceasing combat operations in Iraq.
While funding Obama's request to send more troops and equipment to Afghanistan, Obey also made clear that there is limited patience among Democrats controlling Congress for an open-ended commitment to that war effort.
Obey attached language requiring the administration to issue a report by February on whether the weak governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan are doing enough to warrant continued support.
"I am extremely dubious about the ability of the administration to achieve its ends in that operation," Obey said. "It's an extremely uphill battle."
Democrats have heeded Obama's demand to keep the bill largely free of domestic add-ons, although lawmakers including Rep. John Murtha and Rep. Nita Lowey, both Obama's Democratic party-mates, succeeded in swelling spending for military and foreign aid accounts.
Murtha had hoped to use the bill to advance $8 billion to $9 billion in extras for the military, such as Stryker armored combat vehicles and C-17 cargo planes.
Pressure from Speaker Nancy Pelosi, senior Democrat in the House, and other party leaders forced Murtha to cut from 15 to eight the number of C-17 planes from the Boeing Co. Eight of the planes would cost $2.2 billion. Boeing was unsuccessful in winning new F-18 fighters.
There also is $904 million for C-130 cargo planes and money for four F-22 advanced fighters, which the White House requested. Funding for F-22s would be cut off after that.
Foreign aid financing includes accelerating $555 million for Israel and $360 million for Egypt that was to have been provided later in the year.
Obama's request, including money to send thousands more troops to Afghanistan, would push the costs of the two wars to almost $1 trillion since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks against the United States, according to the Congressional Research Service.
While the Iraq war by far gets the most money, the request reflects a shift in focus from Iraq to Afghanistan.


Updated : 2021-07-28 03:44 GMT+08:00