updated 6/17/2009 9:07:25 PM ET 2009-06-18T01:07:25

The Senate on Wednesday agreed to prohibit the release of photos depicting the abuse of detainees by U.S. troops, clearing a choke point to congressional approval of a $106 billion war-spending bill.

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The voice vote on the bill preventing publication of the photos came hours after Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a co-sponsor of the measure, went to the Senate floor to say he had been assured by Democratic leaders and the White House that the photos would be safe from public scrutiny, and therefore he would no longer block action on the spending bill.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he hoped an agreement could be reached Thursday to hold a vote on the bill assuring that military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan will have money through the rest of this budget year ending on Sept. 30.

If no agreement is reached, he said the Senate would vote Friday on a motion, requiring 60 votes, to close debate on the measure.

House approved bill Tuesday
The House on Tuesday voted 226-202 to approve the legislation, which provides $80 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, $10.4 billion for economic development in those countries and elsewhere, and $7.7 billion for pandemic flu preparedness.

The Senate, in approving its version of the spending bill last month by an 86-3 margin, included the provision sponsored by Graham and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., banning the release of photos showing abuse of detainees.

However, in House-Senate negotiations on a final version, some House Democrats, allied with First Amendment groups, succeeded in having it removed. Graham said he would block action on the bill — in the Senate a single member can slow progress on legislation for days — unless his concerns were addressed.

"The effect of releasing these photos would be to empower our enemies," he said. "Every photo would become a bullet or IED used by terrorists against our troops."

But Graham also said Wednesday that he had received assurances that he would get a vote on his bill before July 8, the date of the next court hearing. He also said that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel had given personal assurances that President Barack Obama would sign an executive order classifying the photos. Graham's bill now goes to the House.

On another issue, Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., said he planned to raise a point of order as early as Thursday to kill a provision in the spending bill that provides $1 billion for the "cash for clunkers" program that would offer government rebates to consumers who trade in old gas guzzlers for more fuel-efficient vehicles.

"That's an insult to our troops that in order to fund our troops they have to take along with them $1 billion of new debt passed on to our children," Gregg said.

'Helping the dealers of America'
Democrat Debbie Stabenow of the auto state of Michigan urged senators to defeat the Gregg motion, which would send the entire bill back to the House for another vote, when it comes up. "We are the last place, the last vote, standing between helping the dealers of America and turning our back on them," she said. It takes 60 votes to overcome a point of order.

The House passed the bill over the opposition of nearly every Republican. Some brought up the photo issue, but the main point of contention was $5 billion to set up a U.S. line of credit for an International Monetary Fund loan program for poor countries struggling with the world recession.

Reid said earlier it would be the last time Congress has to grapple with an off-budget emergency war spending bill "because President Obama is honest with his budgeting."

Every year since the Sept. 11 attacks Congress has passed these emergency bills to finance the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and enhance security programs. Because they are not part of the regular budget process, they are not paid for and add to the national debt. If the current bill is enacted, the total spending for these "supplementals" since 2001 will approach $1 trillion, with about 70 percent going to Iraq.

Obama, who is seeking to wind down military operations in Iraq while bolstering military forces in Afghanistan, has pledged to fund all war operations through the regular defense budget. He has asked for $130 billion in the new fiscal year starting Oct. 1.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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