By Mike Soraghan - 06/04/09 08:15 PM EDT
Democratic leaders in the House put off a Friday vote on a $90 billion war supplemental as the conference committee ran into problems.
In the House, the main problem is the inclusion of additional funding for the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which is intended to meet a pledge made by President Obama to world leaders. The inclusion of the money has drawn united opposition from House Republicans, who say it should not be included in the war bill.
In the Senate, Democrats worked to find a compromise on language that would prevent suspected terrorists at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp from being transferred to prisons in the U.S. The language is not in the House version of the bill, and the administration is seeking to change the Senate language.
The war-funding bill, which would provide money for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, passed the House easily in May with support from both Republicans and Democrats. But then the Senate added $5 billion to cover the risk of default on a new $108 billion line of credit for the IMF.
Republicans, who overwhelmingly supported the bill last month, have now put up a wall of opposition to including the money in conference. They’ve fused the electorate’s outrage over the bailout with the traditional disdain for foreign aid, calling the money a “global bailout.”
Democratic leaders concede they will have to pass it with Democratic votes.
But that gets tricky. Even in the Democratic Caucus, the IMF issue has turned supporters of the war supplemental against it.
When the bill passed last month, 200 Democrats voted for it but 51 voted against it. The opponents were mainly anti-war lawmakers opposed to the buildup in Afghanistan.
Democratic vote-counters would need to get 18 of those members to switch their vote for the bill to be approved against united GOP opposition. White House and Democratic leaders worked the phones Thursday plumbing the depths of those members’ opposition.
They might need to find more than 18, because some Democrats, particularly vehement backers of Israel, also have problems with the IMF funding.
One of them is Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) who fears the money could benefit Iran, and could wind up in the hands of Hezbollah, if it gains political dominance in Lebanon.
“If there’s a blank check that makes Iran bailout-eligible, I would have to vote against it,” Sherman said. “And what I’ve heard is that it’s a blank check.”
Ten Democrats signed a letter he sent to colleagues demanding safeguards to prevent Iran or Hezbollah from getting the money.
Republicans also seized on Sherman’s allegations. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) called it “a bailout that could line the pockets of terrorist regimes around the world.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) dismissed Republican charges about whether the money could go to “terrorists,” saying, “It simply is not based in fact and is a scare tactic and is most unfortunate.”
There are other Democrats who are more supportive of the IMF and want it to get more money. They circulated a letter in May saying they considered the Senate’s IMF allocation “inadequate.”
The list of signers included 20 Democratic lawmakers who had voted against the supplemental in May, representing a pool of potential converts to the “yes” side, having already registered their opposition to the Afghanistan buildup.
“We’ve been funding the troops for the last seven years,” said a Republican aide.
The conference committee did not conclude its work, and aides said much of the reason for the delay was simply finishing writing the conference report. One said a Friday vote had always been “wishful thinking.”
In the Senate, Democratic leaders said Thursday they are developing a compromise that would allow the White House to bring Guantanamo detainees into the U.S.
Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said senior party members are trying to find a way to bend to demands from the Obama administration.
Durbin said most people realize that if Obama’s goal of holding trials for detainees is to be realized, detainees would have to be brought to the U.S. and incarcerated before trial. He also said other countries will not accept detainees if the U.S. refuses.
“Its naïve to think that the rest of the world is going to take Guantanamo detainees and we have no responsibility,” he said.
Durbin acknowledged, however, that the talks on a compromise are difficult given the 90-6 Senate vote in favor of language preventing detainees from entering the U.S.
J. Taylor Rushing contributed to this report.