WASHINGTON (AP) - Capitol Hill Democrats are closing in on
agreement on a war funding bill that's now likely to cost taxpayers
well over $100 billion with the late addition of more flu-fighting
funds and money to subsidize new car purchases.
And, under a compromise revealed by House and Senate aides
Wednesday, detainees held at the Guantanamo Bay prison could be
transferred to the U.S. to face trial but not to serve their
sentences in this country if convicted.
An official House-Senate negotiating session was scheduled for
Thursday, with votes in the House and Senate expected next week.
The ever-growing measure is now expected to contain $7.7 billion
in flu-fighting funds instead of President Barack Obama's original
$1.5 billion request. Negotiators are also eyeing $1 billion for a
new "cash for clunkers" program that aims to boost new auto sales
by allowing consumers to turn in their gas-guzzling cars and trucks
for vouchers toward the purchase of more fuel-efficient vehicles.
The core of the measure remains funding for military and
diplomatic operations in Iraq and Afghanistan that would bring the
total approved by Congress for the two wars above $900 billion. The
must-pass measure, however, has been caught in Capitol Hill's
It appears that House liberals opposed to a Senate provision to
block the release of new detainee abuse photos are now likely to
prevail. That earned a blistering retort from Sen. Lindsey Graham,
R-S.C., who co-authored the language in question and agrees with
Obama that release of the photos would whip up anti-American
sentiment and threaten U.S. service members.
"I think it's one of the most irresponsible things I've heard
of," Graham told reporters. "They don't have our troops' back."
House liberals prevailed in the fight over detainee photos
because their votes are needed to pass the measure since House
Republican support has evaporated over the decision to add to the
bill Obama's request for a new $108 billion U.S. line of credit to
the International Monetary Fund to help poor countries deal with
the world recession.
Some 51 House Democrats, most of them opposed to the war in Iraq
and, increasingly, the effort in Afghanistan as well, opposed the
measure in a vote last month. Many of them are leadership loyalists
who can be counted on to switch.
The issue of Guantanamo was particularly difficult. The White
House pressed to weaken Senate language that would have blocked the administration from bringing detainees to the United States, even
to stand trial.
The compromise strikes a balance between House and Senate
provisions to permit accused terrorists - such as Ahmed Ghailani,
who appeared on Tuesday in a federal court in New York as the first
Guantanamo detainee to come to trial in the U.S. - to be
transferred to the U.S. for their trials but not permanent
Funding to specifically help accomplish Obama's goal of closing
Guantanamo was denied, however.
The war funding bill started in April as an $83.4 billion
request from Obama and has grown steadily from there. He soon added
a $1.5 billion flu-fighting request, which came as fears of the
H1N1 swine flu outbreak gripped the nation.
The House promptly added almost $12 billion in additional
spending for foreign aid, military procurement and additional
Obama's request for the IMF funding came too late for inclusion
in the original House bill but was added to the Senate version, and
promptly opened a fissure with House Republicans.
The actual cost to taxpayers for the IMF funding is estimated at
$5 billion, though the government would have to borrow the full
Obama followed last week with a request for $2 billion in
additional flu-fighting funds - on top of the $1.5 billion initial
request - and the authority to shift about $3.8 billion in cash
from the economic stimulus bill to the effort in case the swine flu
bug returns with a vengeance this flu season. A tentative agreement
would leave the stimulus measure untouched and simply appropriate
the full request, which would boost detection efforts and would
develop, stockpile and administer vaccines.
The underlying measure funds Obama's plan to send more than
20,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, and with the increase in
U.S. operations there, the Afghanistan war is now expected to cost
more than Iraq.
It also contains money for new weapons and military equipment
such as eight C-17 cargo planes, mine-resistant vehicles, Bradley
Fighting Vehicles and Stryker armored vehicles. It contains an
about $2.2 billion increase to Obama's request for foreign aid,
much of which appears to be designed to get around spending limits
Separately, a House panel Wednesday approved Obama's request for
remarkable increases in grants to local governments for clean water
projects as it unveiled a $32.3 billion spending bill for the
Interior Department and environmental programs.
Democrats justified a 9 percent increase for the Interior
Department and a whopping 38 percent boost for the Environmental
Protection Agency by saying former President George W. Bush
shortchanged them for years.
A 75 percent increase for grants to cities and counties for
clean and safe drinking water projects would both ease a backlog of
projects and create much-needed infrastructure jobs, Democrats