Road Map: Supplemental Spending Bill Faces Major Hurdles

Posted June 8, 2009 at 6:40pm

It may take some Cirque du Soleil-type acrobatics, but House and Senate Democratic leaders hope to have a more than $90 billion supplemental war spending bill completed by the end of the week.

[IMGCAP(1)]Three issues — a massive $108 billion loan to the International Monetary Fund, restrictions on pictures of detainee abuse and closing the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba — are bedeviling lawmakers as they try to finish up the must-pass bill.

And maneuvering room is extremely limited as leaders try to find a path through both chambers.

The House appears to have the trickiest problem given that Republicans are vowing to vote en bloc against the bill if it contains the IMF money, Democrats could defect if the bill bars the release of photos of detainee abuse in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison and in Afghanistan, and there are already more than 50 Democrats on record as opposing any bill that funds a war without a defined end.

Though the Obama administration reversed itself on the issue last month and decided to fight the release of photos sought by the American Civil Liberties Union, many House Democrats feel the photos should be made public.

Meanwhile, Republicans have accused Democrats of trying to orchestrate a “global bailout— with the IMF money, and with so many Democrats defecting, Democratic leaders would need those GOP votes to boost the bill over the top.

House Democrats have reached out to Republicans to negotiate, but the leaders were told that the only way to ensure Republicans would support the bill was to strike the IMF money.

“What can they do to bring us over to [vote for] a supplemental with IMF funding?— asked one senior House Republican aide. “Very little.—

Though Democrats have toyed with adding a measure — known as “Cash for Clunkers— — intended to spur Americans to buy new cars, the Republican aide said even that was unlikely to shake loose enough Republicans to make up for Democratic desertions.

So, no matter how you slice it, the votes aren’t there right now to keep all those items in the bill, House aides argued.

But if House Democrats decide to strip IMF funding, they risk a revolt from the Senate and the White House, who are committed to keeping the money. A similar outcome could accompany the elimination of Senate language forbidding the release of the detainee abuse photos.

“People over here feel very strongly about those two issues,— said one senior Senate Democratic aide. “People are advocating for them— to stay in the bill.

However, a senior House Democratic aide said the best option for the House might be to get rid of the prohibition on releasing Abu Ghraib pictures, while leaving in the IMF funding. Republicans might still balk at the bill, but with a little arm-twisting, House Democrats could probably lock up the votes in their own party that would be necessary to pass the bill, the aide said.

The Senate may not have the 60 votes needed to block a filibuster of the bill if the language barring Guantánamo detainees from entering the United States for any reason is tweaked.

The White House has asked for language that would at least allow them to temporarily bring suspected terrorists to the United States for trial.

“I assume it’ll take the active involvement of the president— to solve all the issues, another senior Senate Democratic aide said.

Senate Democrats have essentially split into five general positions on Guantánamo: those who do not want any detainees in the United States under any circumstance, those who are amenable to temporary detentions for trials, those who want to do nothing until President Barack Obama details his plan for all detainees, those who want to try to get other countries to take the detainees, and those who just want to close the prison now and are unafraid of accepting detainees into U.S. prisons.

Democratic aides blamed the divide, in part, on fear of the Republican rhetoric that is already being used against Democrats. GOP Senators have been hammering Democrats for months over what they see as the danger of housing terrorist suspects in the United States.

Obama issued an executive order in January directing that Guantánamo be closed within a year, but he has yet to detail a plan for what to do with the hundreds of suspected terrorists there. However, his eventual plan is expected to include a proposal to house many detainees in U.S. maximum security prisons.

The Democratic leaders’ goal for the supplemental, however, is to simply get language that allows the Obama administration to bring detainees to the United States for trial during the next four months only.

Not all House Democrats are of one mind, either, when it comes to Guantánamo, with many fearing the political ramifications of allowing any suspected terrorists to step onto U.S. soil, even in shackles, the senior House Democratic aide said.

But one knowledgeable Senate Democratic aide predicted that on the Guantánamo fight at least, a solution was just around the corner.

“Cooler heads are at the table now,— the aide noted.