US House passes war bill, sets up fight with Senate

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The US House of Representatives overnight approved a $96.7 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and economic and security aid to the struggling government of Pakistan.

Under pressure from Republicans, the legislation also seeks to force President Barack Obama‘s hand on how to deal with some 240 terrorism suspects after the detention facility at the US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is closed, Reuters adds.

The Senate is working on its own version of the legislation that totals $91.3 billion and could vote next week. The two chambers will have to bridge any differences and approve a single version before it can be sent to Obama and become law.

One difference is the House bill offered $1 billion in economic and security aid to Pakistan, which is struggling to fight a surging militant Taliban force spilling over from Afghanistan. The Senate offered roughly $900 million.

Another dispute lies with Obama’s request for $80 million for closing the Guantanamo prison by early next year. That has sparked fierce criticism and bipartisan calls for him to submit a plan on the fate of the prisoners before getting the funds.

The House bill rejected the request and would bar releasing detainees into the United States through Sept. 30. It further bans moving them to US soil for detention or prosecution until two months after Obama submits a report to Congress that addresses his rationale and assesses the risks of the moves.

The Senate bill would provide the $80 million. But $50 million would only be available after the administration provides a plan on how it will deal with the detainees and not bring them into the United States.

With Democrats in control of Congress and the White House, Republicans have used the prison issue to challenge Obama on the politically sensitive matter of security.

“Americans are worried that closing Guantanamo by an arbitrary deadline won’t keep them as safe as Guantanamo has,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Democrats shot back that the legislation would not allow for the detainees’ release. “I think everyone on this floor agrees that … anybody who is a terrorist ought not to be released anywhere,” House Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said in the debate.

While the Guantanamo prison funds are controversial, it is not expected to derail the bill.

Almost all House Republicans and most House Democrats backed the measure because it provides vital war funding through Sept. 30, voting 368-60.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates had pressed Congress to act by May 25 to avoid running out of foreign aid for Pakistan this month and for some military operations in July. Yet, Congress may miss that deadline because of the differences.

Another sticking point rests with the Senate version which would provide up to $108 billion for the International Monetary Fund to help countries weather the global financial crisis. It would also authorise the US representative to the IMF to vote on a planned gold sale.

The House bill includes no IMF provisions. “That should be debated on its own merits, not as part of a troop funding bill,” said House Republican Minority Leader John Boehner.

Obama had said the IMF money would essentially be a loan and therefore would not pose any cost to US taxpayers. But, lawmakers disagreed and the Congressional Budget Office has told Congress it would need to appropriate $5 billion for it.

Hoyer, in an interview, said “I think the House can pass that, if the Senate sends it back over with that.” However he was not sure it would survive in the Senate.

Meanwhile the House version includes some $3.1 billion for buying eight Boeing C-17s and 11 Lockheed Martin C-130 transport planes. The Senate bill left out that money despite protests by a few senators wanting more C-17s.



Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye said that he supported continuing C-17 production.