House weighs defense bill with Guantanamo limits
Washington • The House moved toward passage of a $570 billion defense spending bill that imposes new restrictions on President Barack Obama's handling of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and his attempts to close the U.S. prison there.
Republicans and some Democrats have repeatedly blocked any effort to shutter the post-Sept. 11 prison to house terror suspects, and congressional furor over Obama's trade last month of five Taliban leaders for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl prompted a bipartisan effort to add new obstacles.
Lawmakers were outraged that Obama failed to notify Congress of the exchange within 30 days, as required by law. The bill would bar 85 percent of the funds in the account for overseas conflicts until Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel reassures Congress that congressional notification on Guantanamo transfers will be respected.
The administration exchanged Bergdahl, held captive by the Taliban since 2009, for five Taliban officials who had been at Guantanamo for more than a decade. The five were sent to Qatar, where they are to remain for a year.
During debate on Thursday, the House added another limit on the president's handling of detainees, voting 238-179 for an amendment by Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-Ind., that would bar funds for transferring Guantanamo detainees to Yemen.
The legislation for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 would provide the funds for military operations, including actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as weapons and military personnel. The White House has objected to the legislation, complaining about the Guantanamo restrictions and attempts to spare weapons from Pentagon cost-cutters.
Wary of U.S. re-engagement in Iraq three years after combat troops left, two Democrats Rep. John Garamendi of California and Colleen Hanabusa of Hawaii hoped to force a vote on an amendment requiring the president to seek congressional approval for sustained military action in Iraq.
It was unclear whether House leaders would allow a vote on the politically charged amendment amid the spreading chaos in Iraq and Obama's plans to dispatch up to 300 military advisers to help quell the growing insurgency.
Garamendi said Obama's efforts to boost security at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad should require no congressional action, but he said unmanned air strikes amount to an act of war and need approval.
"There are many people in the House of Representatives that are deeply concerned about the slippery slope that we are apparently about to step on," Garamendi said in an interview.
He argued that constitutional separation of powers must be respected and that Congress has the power to declare war.
The overall spending bill would provide a 1.8 percent pay raise for military personnel, more than the 1 percent that the Obama administration proposed, and accepts the Pentagon's plan to retire A-10 Warthog, the close air support aircraft popular in Congress.
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