Posted on Thu, Jun. 18, 2009
last updated: June 18, 2009 05:48:23 PM
WASHINGTON — The Senate approved a $105.9 billion emergency war-spending bill Thursday after the White House assured lawmakers that it would bar the release of photos of detained terrorism suspects by an executive order if necessary. The vote was 91-5.
The bill, which now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature, includes $79.9 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, $10.4 billion in diplomatic and humanitarian aid to Afghanistan and other countries in the region and $7.7 billion to help control the flu pandemic. The money is for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.
The legislation passed only after overcoming two major hurdles.
Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., tried to strip from the bill $1 billion for a "cash for clunkers" auto-purchase subsidy program, and Democrats mustered the bare minimum 60 votes to block him, succeeding only after some last-minute arm-twisting on the floor.
The other obstacle was lifted Wednesday after Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., spoke to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel about controversial photos that show Guantanamo Bay detainees being abused.
"I have been personally assured by Rahm Emanuel that if Congress fails to do its part in protecting these photos from being released, President Obama will sign an executive order classifying the photos," Graham said.
The senator was threatening to block Senate business unless he got assurance that either the Senate would act to bar the photos or the president would issue such an order.
He wound up with both. The Senate unanimously approved the ban on releasing the photos without debate late Wednesday. Graham also said that Emanuel "assured me these photos would not see the light of day." Emanuel's office didn't answer requests for comment.
Gregg was upset that the bill included money to boost the ailing auto industry. The "cash for clunkers" program would give consumers up to $4,500 each for trading in aging gas guzzlers for more fuel-efficient vehicles, but Gregg argued that it had no place in a war spending bill.
In addition, he said, "it's a billion dollars of new cost put on our children's shoulders," one day after Obama and Democratic leaders announced that they wanted new pay-as-you-go rules to bring discipline to congressional spending.
"He didn't list this bill, which spends a billion dollars and is not paid for," Gregg said. "We couldn't get through a day without following the rules."
However, few senators appeared eager to let those qualms block legislation that supports American troops, especially when the Pentagon has said that the current funds are likely to run out sometime next month.
The bill's bumpy passage through Congress contained warnings for the Obama administration. Such emergency measures usually win quick approval, but this one took more than a month.
It barely passed the House of Representatives earlier this week, getting eight votes more than a majority, as Republicans had reservations about $5 billion to help the International Monetary Fund and anti-war Democrats were upset about the lack of a detailed plan for the Afghanistan war.
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