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Road Map: Guantánamo Closure Puts Democrats in a Box

Are Senate Democrats walking into a Republican trap?

It certainly seems that way, considering they’ve decided to include funding for the closure of the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, in the chamber’s version of a nearly $97 billion supplemental war spending bill.

That would be the same issue that House and Senate Republicans have been hammering President Barack Obama on for the past few weeks. Republicans charge that while Obama wants money to close the facility, the president doesn’t have a plan for what to do with the hundreds of suspected terrorists — including the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed — who are housed there.

At first GOP Members may have appeared a little silly for bringing up the issue when the economy is in the toilet. After all, the House supplemental didn’t include any money to help Obama make good on his campaign promise to close the prison. Additionally, House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) added language requiring the administration present a plan to Congress by Oct. 1. The full House will likely vote on its bill Thursday.

But on Monday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) confirmed that the Senate Appropriations Committee, which plans to consider the bill this afternoon, would give Obama a taste of the $80 million he wants. However, Reid acknowledged that the topic could create drama when the measure comes to the Senate floor next week.

“The only thing that I see that ... could cause some concern: The closing of Guantánamo,” Reid said on the Senate floor. As he has done repeatedly, Reid noted last year’s Republican standard-bearer and 2008 presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), also supports closing the prison, and that the issue is really about what to do with the prisoners.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) plans to fence off “the money so it wouldn’t be available until the president came up with a plan and there would be no prisoners brought to the United States during this fiscal year,” Reid said.

Barely 30 minutes after Reid’s speech, Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) pounced. “Majority Leader Reid has just informed us that the Senate committee would — quote ‘fence the $80 million,’” Kyl said. “But the [Obama] plan could be almost anything ... That’s not the kind of assurance that will get the Senate to support this request.”

Indeed, it was unclear as of press time whether Inouye’s language would require Congressional approval for Obama’s prisoner transfer plan once it was crafted.

Kyl noted: “As the Majority Leader said ... in his classically understated way, he said, ‘That looks like an issue that could cause a little bit of debate.’ And, Mr. President, I’m sure he is absolutely correct about that.”

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