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House's warning shot over Guantanamo

A vote denies Obama money to shut the facility in 2010 and sets curbs on transfers.

WASHINGTON - The House yesterday used the first spending bill for 2010 to notify President Obama that it will not go along easily with his intention to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, by January.

The House voted 259-157 for the $64.4 billion package to fund many of Obama's law-enforcement and science priorities in the budget year starting in October.

But the bill denies Obama money to shut the facility next year and establishes strict restrictions on the transfer of detainees.

All area representatives voted for it except Michael N. Castle (R., Del.) and Joseph R. Pitts (R., Pa.), who voted against it, and Joe Sestak (D., Pa.), who did not vote.

On Wednesday, the House approved a $100 billion war-spending bill that also stipulates that it will not allow the use of federal money to shut Guantanamo in the final months of this budget year. That bill passed the Senate yesterday and is heading to the White House.

Both the House and Senate want to impose strict requirements on the administration before detainees at Guantanamo can be transferred to the United States, U.S. territories, or third countries.

The Obama administration has already transferred one terror suspect to New York to stand trial. Nine other detainees have been transferred to other countries and the administration is negotiating with foreign leaders to accept Guantanamo detainees who are to be released.

The bill, the first of 12 spending bills Congress must pass for next year, prohibits the release of detainees into the United States during the 2010 budget year.

It would allow the transfer to the United States of detainees for prosecution or detention only after Congress has had two months to read a White House report on how it would shut the detention facility and disperse the inmates.

The bill also requires the administration to notify lawmakers of any plans to transfer detainees abroad. It turns down the $60 million the administration had requested to initiate the closure.

The chamber also rejected a tougher approach offered by Rep. Jerry Lewis (R., Calif.) that would have blocked funding for any actions related to the executive order issued by Obama in January stating his intention to shut Guantanamo in a year.

The amendment first went down, 216-212. After Republicans demanded a recount, it was defeated, 213-212.

Area Reps. Robert E. Andrews (D., N.J.), Robert A. Brady (D., Pa.), Chaka Fattah (D., Pa.), Tim Holden (D., Pa.), Patrick Murphy (D., Pa.), Allyson Y. Schwartz (D., Pa.) and Joe Sestak (D., Pa.) voted with the majority; Reps. John Adler (D., N.J.), Michael N. Castle (R., Del.), Charles W. Dent (R., Pa.), Jim Gerlach (R., Pa.), Frank A. LoBiondo (R., N.J.), Joseph R. Pitts (R., Pa.), and Christopher H. Smith (R., N.J.) voted in favor of the amendment.

"This is clearly an issue that needs to be addressed before any more prisoners are released or transferred," Lewis, the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee, said after the vote.

Rep. Alan Mollohan (D., W.Va.), a senior member of the panel, defended the rejection of Lewis' amendment.

"We have established a good process for the consideration of this issue," Mollohan said, adding he supports the eventual closing of Guantanamo. "It's an embarrassment to the country. It's a symbol that has really fomented a lot of opposition to the United States around the world."

The $64.4 billion spending bill, which now goes to the Senate, funds Commerce and Justice Department programs and science agencies at an amount nearly $7 billion higher than the spending for the current fiscal year ending in September.

Much of that goes to the Census Bureau, which will see its budget jump $4 billion, to $7.4 billion, as it prepares for the 2010 census.