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War funds bill passes Congress, but…

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June 19, 2009

The U.S. Congress on Thursday sent President Barack Obama a $106 billion bill to pay for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars after political sparring that could foreshadow tougher fights over Obama’s agenda.

The bill, delayed by disputes over quickly closing the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay and expanding support for the IMF, highlighted the difficulties Obama may face in Congress even though his fellow Democrats control both the Senate and House of Representatives.

The bill contains $79.9 billion to continue fighting the two wars, $7.7 billion to address the H1N1 flu pandemic, and $1.4 billion in foreign aid for Pakistan, which is fighting Taliban militants spilling over the border from Afghanistan.

"The bill before us represents a balanced compromise between the issues and funding recommended by the House and Senate," said Democratic Senator Daniel Inouye, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The Senate voted 91-5, with most Republicans joining Democrats to support it. Obama is expected to sign it into law. The House approval on Tuesday garnered only five Republican votes and 32 Democrats voted against it.

Democrats have a commanding majority in the House, but still need to keep centrist Democrats aboard and win a few Republican votes in the Senate to forestall any procedural roadblocks mounted by the opposition party.

After weeks of tense negotiations among the White House, Democrats and Republicans, lawmakers put limits on Obama’s efforts to close the controversial prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where more than 200 terrorism suspects are being held.

LIMITS ON DETAINEES

The legislation permits the administration to bring suspects to U.S. soil for trial but not permanent detention. It also bans the release in the United States of any detainees who have been cleared of wrongdoing through September 30.

Republicans and, later, Democrats demanded the White House produce a detailed plan before shutting the facility down. In the meantime, the administration has rushed to release or transfer more than a dozen detainees.

Another obstacle was a $100 billion credit line for the International Monetary Fund, which is working to help developing countries survive the economic downturn, an $8 billion increase in the U.S. contribution to the lender, and U.S. support for the IMF’s plan to sell 400 tons (12.97 million ounces) of its gold reserves.

House Republicans had expressed concern the IMF would use the funds to lend to U.S. foes like Iran and Venezuela and also argued the matter should have been considered separately.

With the bill’s passage, Obama can follow through on a commitment he made with other Group of 20 member nations to add $500 billion to an IMF emergency fund for countries needing financial aid to avoid bankruptcy.

The Senate also fought off an attempt to strip out $1 billion set for a program to boost flagging U.S. car sales by offering vouchers to encourage consumers to trade in their less fuel-efficient vehicles for ones that get better mileage.

Republican Senator Judd Gregg had argued the program was not paid for and should not be allowed to add to the growing debt. Auto sales are off 40 percent this year.

"There are innumerable places in this government, which is spending trillions of dollars a year, to find $1 billion to pay for this bill if it was a priority," he said.