Friday, June 12, 2009

U.S. congressional negotiators back war funding bill

By Jeremy Pelofsky
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. congressional negotiators on Thursday approved a $106 billion compromise bill largely backing President Barack Obama's missions in Afghanistan and Iraq, but restricting his effort to quickly close the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The package was in limbo for hours over whether to include a provision to prevent the release of photos by U.S. personnel depicting abuse of prisoners that Obama and some lawmakers fear could provoke a backlash against U.S. troops.
Obama intervened personally to lobby against the amendment but vowed to keep the pictures under wraps. He told lawmakers in a letter that the provision would "unnecessarily complicate the essential objective of supporting the troops."
On Thursday, a federal appeals court in New York stayed an order that the Defense Department release the photographs, giving the Obama administration time to argue its objections before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The American Civil Liberties Union has sued to make the photos public. Lawmakers from the Democratic-controlled Senate and House of Representatives voted along party lines to reject two attempts to reincorporate the provision into the bill.
"All he (Obama) has to do today is use an executive order to declare these photos classified material," said Republican Senator John McCain, who lost the 2008 presidential election to Obama and has pushed to keep the photos from being released.
The overall package includes $79.9 billion for U.S. forces in Iraq where Obama is trying to wind down the American presence and in Afghanistan where the president is ramping up operations to fight remaining al Qaeda militants.
The bill has grown steadily as Obama sought billions of dollars to also combat the H1N1 flu virus, which has now become a pandemic. He also asked for $108 billion in credit lines to shore up the International Monetary Fund as it helps developing countries weather the economic downturn.
Democrats and Republicans have also larded up the bill with a few of their own items like military transport planes the Pentagon did not request and money to spur car sales through vouchers for consumers to buy more fuel-efficient vehicles.
The House and Senate passed different versions of the bill. But negotiators have been hammering it out for weeks and Democrats hope both chambers will approve it next week.
The compromise has been a hard-fought battle for Obama and his fellow Democrats because of several issues, including the abuse photos as well as the IMF funding that Republicans have argued should be considered on its own merits.
The IMF provisions also endorse the lender's plan to sell some 400 tons (12.97 million ounces) of its gold.
They also argued over closing the U.S. prison in Cuba where terrorism suspects picked up after September 11 have been held. Obama pledged to close the facility by January 2010 and had asked Congress for $80 million to start that process.
Democrats rejected the money request but brokered a deal that would allow detainees into the United States for trial, although not permanent detention. The bill would also ban releasing any detainees into the country through September 30. Continued...
Source: Reuters

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