$106B war bill moves forward in both houses

A nearly $106 billion war supplemental appeared to be headed for votes in the House and Senate after moves by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and President Obama.

Pelosi appeared to patch together a barebones majority for the bill in the House by playing chicken with two senators over the release of detainee-abuse photos. Democrats in the conference committee rejected Republican amendments backed by the senators that would have blocked release of detainee-abuse photos.

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Earlier in the day, the House voted 267-152 to keep language preventing the release of the photos in the supplemental, but it was a symbolic, non-binding vote that conferees ignored later in the day.

That made the path less clear in the Senate, but Thursday evening some centrist Democrats indicated they could support the bill after the White House offered assurances that President Obama would use his “administrative authority” to keep the photos from being released.

Obama spoke with the Democrats on speakerphone during a break in the conference committee hearing, and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel met with them in an Appropriations Committee room in the Capitol, several senators said.

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), after he listened to Obama, said that he would support the legislation coming out of the conference even without the ban.

Democrats finished the conference committee late Thursday night, clearing the way for the supplemental to be taken up by the full House and Senate.

Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) have threatened to “shut down” the Senate if their amendment was stripped in conference.

The bill to emerge out of House-Senate negotiations will cost $105.8 billion. Most of the money — $79.9 billion — will fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Another $10 billion will fund State Department and other international assistance programs. Nearly $8 billion goes toward pandemic flu preparations.

The provision in the Senate’s version of the bill barring the government from releasing photos of terror detainees was cut out during conference negotiations led by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.).

Both Inouye and Obey argued against adding the prohibition to the bill, saying that it would endanger the legislation in the House. The chairmen said they opposed the release of the photos but worried more about the effects of delaying troop funding.

“As much as I support the position taken by the Senate, I believe national security can be better served with passage of this bill,” Inouye said.

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Pelosi started off the day without enough votes to pass the bill in the House, but she cobbled together a majority by appealing to her fellow liberals in the caucus. She told them they needed to get the supplemental off the table in order to move on to healthcare and climate change legislation.

“There were some members of the Progressive Caucus who were going to vote no,” said one appropriator. “The Speaker made it clear that we can’t move on to other things until we do this. And you have to support the president.”

The supplemental passed in May with overwhelming Democratic support, but has since become weighed down by the question of the torture photos and solid Republican opposition to including money for the International Monetary Fund. Republican leaders said that the $5 billion increase in credit to the IMF amounted to a “global bailout.”

That meant Pelosi had to pass the conference report in the House with Democratic votes. Only 200 Democrats voted for the measure, so leaders needed to find 18 more votes among the 51 who voted no.

Many of the 51 anti-war members who voted against the supplemental last month said they are willing to switch their vote because of the $5 billion for the IMF. Among them is Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.).

“It’s an outrageous abuse of the process,” Frank said. “All these conservatives … say they’re against non-spending issues in appropriations bills. This is not a spending issue.”