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House puts new restrictions on Gitmo closing

Image: Barack Obama speaks on the elections in Iran
President Obama plans to arrange for the transfer of additional Guantanamo detainees to foreign countries. Thursday's House bill requires the administration to notify lawmakers of potential transfers.Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: The Associated Press

The House on Thursday used the first spending bill for 2010 to notify the White House that it will not go along with President Barack Obama's plan to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The House voted 259-157 for the $64.4 billion package to fund many of Obama's law enforcement and science priorities in the budget year starting in October. But the bill denies Obama money to close the facility next year and establishes strict restrictions for the transfer of detainees.

Already this week, the House showed its defiance of Obama's goal of shutting down the facility by approving a $100 billion war-spending bill that stipulates that it will not allow the use of federal money to close Guantanamo in the final months of this budget year. That bill passed the Senate on Thursday and is heading to the White House.

Both the House and Senate want to impose strict requirements on the administration before current detainees at Guantanamo can be transferred to the United States, U.S. territories or third countries.

The Obama administration has already transferred one suspected terrorist to New York to stand trial. Another nine have been transferred to other countries and the Obama administration is negotiating with foreign leaders to accept Guantanamo detainees.

The bill passed by the House Thursday prohibits the release of detainees into the United States during the 2010 budget year. It would allow the transfer to the United States of detainees for prosecution or detention only after Congress has had two months to read a White House report on how it plans to shut the detention facility and disperse the inmates.

The House bill also requires the Obama administration to notify lawmakers of any plans to transfer detainees to other countries.

Rejecting Republican restrictions
But the chamber also rejected an amendment by Rep. Jerry Lewis, a Republican, that strengthened the prohibition by stopping in its tracks funding for any government activity related to closing the facility.

The amendment first went down on a 216-212 vote. After Republicans demanded a recount, it was defeated again, 213-212.

"This is clearly an issue that needs to be addressed before any more prisoners are released or transferred," Lewis, the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee, said after the vote.

Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., a senior member of the committee, defended the approach taken by the bill in opposing Lewis' amendment.

"We have established a good process for the consideration of this issue," Mollohan said, adding that he supported the closing of Guantanamo. "It's an embarrassment to the country. It's a symbol that has really fomented a lot of opposition to the United States around the world."

On Wednesday, the House Armed Services Committee approved a measure, offered by Democratic chairman Ike Skelton of Missouri, to restrict the transfer of detainees. It states that no detainee can be transferred without the president presenting a plan dealing with possible dangers the detainees pose and requires the president to consult with governors or the chief executives of territories on proposed transfers.

The $64.4 billion spending bill, which now goes to the Senate, funds Commerce and Justice department programs and science agencies at an amount nearly $7 billion above for the current fiscal year ending in September. Much of that goes to the Census Bureau, which will see its budget jump more than $4 billion, to $7.4 billion, as it prepares for the 2010 census.

The vote kicked off an ambitious effort by House Democrats to pass all 12 spending bills before Congress leaves for its August recess and avoid the budgetary standoffs that have become common in recent years.

Last March, Obama signed a massive $410 billion "omnibus" that belatedly funded non-defense programs across the federal government. That catchall bill was needed because of the inability of the George W. Bush administration and the Democratic-controlled Congress to reach agreements on separate spending bills.

The House got off to a rocky start, with Democrats, confronted with more than 100 Republican amendments, breaking with tradition and, to the outrage of Republicans, limiting the number of amendments that could be offered and restricting the time spent on each amendment.

Republicans retaliated Thursday by forcing an all-day voting marathon on amendments and procedures, reaching 52 votes with passage of the bill.