War Funding Bill Stuck In House-Senate Talks

The Pentagon says it urgently needs nearly $100 billion to carry on with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But a bill to provide the money has run into trouble in Congress. The dispute is centered on the treatment of detainees who were captured years ago.

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The future of Guantanamo detainees is just one of the issues blocking a war funding bill in Congress. Lawmakers agree on funding the troops, but don't agree on what they want to attach to that plan. Here's NPR's David Welna.

DAVID WELNA: Last month, the House easily passed its version of the war spending bill. A week later, the Senate passed its version 86 to three. So you might think the skids would be greased for quick final passage of measure that merges the two bills into one.

But the Democrats who are trying to do that have a big problem. House Republicans who voted overwhelmingly for the war funds the first time around say they won't vote for the combined version. That's because they don't like the $5 billion that the Senate added to the bill for the International Monetary Fund at President Obama's request.

To make up for those lost votes, the leadership will need to bring back some of the 51 House Democrats who voted against the bill the first time around because they objected to expanding the Afghanistan War without an exit strategy. And some of those anti-war Democrats have said that unless another provision added by the Senate is taken out, they won't switch their votes.

The provision they want removed is aimed at preventing any release of photos the Pentagon has of detainees held by U.S. forces after 9/11. South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham cosponsored that amendment, and he's worried it will be removed from the final version of the war spending bill in order to pick up needed votes in the House.

Senator LINDSEY GRAHAM (Republican, South Carolina): I cannot believe that we're about to do this, that we're going to dismiss the advice of our commanders who are leading our troops at a time of war to give in to a fringe element.

WELNA: Connecticut Independent Senator Joe Lieberman is the other co-sponsor of the measure banning the release of the photos.

Senator JOE LIEBERMAN (Independent, Connecticut): If this amendment is dropped, Senator Graham and I will not go quietly into the night.

WELNA: Lieberman threatened yesterday to filibuster the war spending bill if a final version arrives in the Senate without his amendment. But with that amendment, the bill could well die in the House. But wait, there's more. Another provision in the spending bill bans the Obama administration from spending any money from any source on transferring detainees from Guantanamo.

But moving those detainees is a major policy goal for President Obama. Yesterday, the administration transferred Guantanamo detainee Ahmed Ghailani to New York to stand trial in connection with bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that took more than 200 lives 11 years ago. Senator Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat close to President Obama, applauded the move.

Senator DICK DURBIN (Democrat, Illinois): Dangerous people who threaten the United States should be dealt with by our Constitution and laws. The administration has made the right decision that this man be brought to trial in the United States, held accountable for any wrongdoing on his part that led to the deaths of so many hundreds of innocent people at our embassies in Africa.

WELNA: But New York House Republican Peter King condemned the transfer of the first Guantanamo detainee to the U.S. as very hasty and premature.

Representative PETER KING (Republican, New York): I think the administration is trying to prove a point here. They're trying to make a point. They're trying to take a case where they feel a conviction should be somewhat easy and use that as the precedent to bring other detainees to the United States.

WELNA: That may well be the administration's plan, but it won't be possible if the war spending bill passes as it stands now. That's left the White House insisting on changing the bill, even as it urges the House and Senate to pass it.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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