War supplemental passes after photo settlement

The Senate late Thursday passed a $106 billion military supplemental to fund the U.S. military’s efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan after unraveling a controversy over photos of detainee abuse.

Voting 91-5, the Senate sent the measure to President Obama’s desk, after the House voted 226-202 for it on Tuesday. Both chambers had already passed different versions, which were reconciled in conference meetings.

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The supplemental was nearly choked by a controversy over how to keep secret photos that showed the U.S. military abusing detainees in custody. Obama decided last month against releasing the photos, and a federal court last week issued a stay to deny a lawsuit to release them by the American Civil Liberties Union, but senators from both parties were searching for a failsafe method to keep the photos under wraps.

In the end, the controversy was settled with a Senate vote Wednesday night for a standalone law to keep the photos from public view. The House still must vote on that bill, however, meaning the controversy may not be over. But White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday told Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) that Obama would sign an executive order to classify them if necessary.

Voting no was a hodgepodge of the Senate's more conservative and liberal members: Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

Absent from the vote were Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), John Ensign (R-Nev.) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.). Byrd and Kennedy are both ill, while Ensign has not returned to the Senate after admitting on Tuesday to an extramarital affair. There is also an ongoing vacancy in the second Minnesota seat.

Even without the controversy over the detainee photos, rhetoric remained heated Thursday. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) issued a strong floor speech challenging critics to support U.S. troops.

“This bill also contains our commitment to strengthening our military, rebuilding our relationships with key allies around the world and reducing key security threats,” Reid said. “Rather than restoring our standing in the world, some Republicans are standing in the way.  They are threatening to block this entire bill and all the good it does because of one small but significant part of it.”

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Republicans fired back that Reid himself voted on five procedural motions between May 2007 and February 2008 that essentially denied funding for U.S. troops.

“After years of voting to cut off funds for our troops in Iraq, the Democrats’ ridiculous rhetoric here rings extremely hollow,” said a senior GOP aide.

The Republican objections were to add-ons to the military funding. In addition to about $80 billion to fund wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the supplemental includes $5 billion in new borrowing for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and $7.7 billion for flu pandemic preparations. Republicans called the IMF funds “a global bailout on the backs of U.S. troops.”

The measure also includes money for Americans who trade in cars for more fuel-efficient vehicles, called the “cash-for-clunkers” program. Earlier Thursday, the chamber passed a procedural motion to block GOP efforts to strip the program from the measure.