Amid complaints that terror suspects could be brought to the U.S., House Democrats on Monday rebuffed the Obama administration's request for $50 million to relocate prisoners from the detention facility at Guantanamo, Cuba.
When lawmakers unveiled a bill to pay for military and diplomatic efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan through the fall, the money to implement President Barack Obama's executive order to shut down the prison within a year was missing from it. However, money could be transferred later — without a politically challenging vote — if it were needed to move the detainees.
The bill, which was released to key lawmakers, registers about $11 billion more than Obama's $83.4 billion request, reflecting additional money for procurement of cargo planes, armored combat vehicles, helicopters and other items.
Funding for foreign aid accounts would be increased to about $10 billion, said a House aide briefed on the bill, including money to combat AIDS.
$50 million request 'a hedge'
Last week, Defense Secretary Robert 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."
The Pentagon has not said how many of the 240 or so detainees would be transferred to the United States or where they would be held. Gates has estimated that 50 to 100 detainees would be shipped to this country.
Top Republicans such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky 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 timeline for emptying Guantanamo Bay just as he has reconsidered his deadline for ceasing combat operations in Iraq.
Lawmakers swell spending
Democrats have heeded Obama's demand to keep the bill free of domestic add-ons, though lawmakers such as Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., and Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., succeeded in swelling spending for military and foreign aid accounts.
Murtha had hoped to used 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.
But pressure from Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., 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 of $2.2 billion. Boeing was unsuccessful in winning new F-18 fighters.
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, terrorist attacks, 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.