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Democrats Demand Gitmo Plan

House and Senate Democrats on Tuesday had a message for the White House regarding President Barack Obama’s insistence on closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba: No plan for the detainees? No money.

“They will have no money available until we get a plan. It’s that simple,— House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense Chairman John Murtha (D-Pa.) said. “It’s my bill.—

In anticipation of receiving a plan for the prison’s closure this month, House and Senate leaders had already delayed consideration of their Defense appropriations bills — traditionally one of the first spending measures to see action.

But the White House on Monday granted a six-month extension to an internal task force charged with developing the administration’s new terrorist detention policies. The task force’s report was due this week.

Despite the administration’s insistence that the delayed report will not prevent closing the prison by Obama’s January 2010 deadline, Congressional leaders remain defiant.

“We’ll wait for a plan,— Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said.

Democratic leaders are not simply indignant that the president has asked for money before presenting a plan, however. Lawmakers and aides in both chambers said it would be tricky to find even a bare majority for closing Guantánamo until Obama presents a detailed blueprint, given Republicans have raised the specter of detainees being released into the United States. Republicans have also warned that even holding Guantánamo prisoners in the United States could be a danger to the communities around those prisons.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.) said it would be “pretty difficult— to keep Democrats together to pay for shutting down Guantánamo without some direction from Obama.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said he was not sure if Democrats could muster the filibuster-proof majority needed to fund the prison’s closure.

“The Members have said they want to know what the administration’s plan is, and that’s understandable,— said Durbin, who supports shutting down the prison.

One senior Senate Democratic aide said leaders are holding out hope that despite the task force’s delayed report, the White House can craft a plan before the bills reach either the House or Senate floor — possibly in late September.

Durbin said he expects that Congress will “at a minimum— allow the administration to transfer detainees to the United States for trial. During debate on this year’s wartime supplemental spending bill, lawmakers in both chambers initially moved to bar detainees from being moved to the United States for any purpose, but they softened that language to allow for civilian trials.

In June, one detainee suspected of involvement in the bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa was moved to New York for trial.

“I hope that the high emotions of a few weeks ago have diminished some with one of the Guantánamo detainees being moved the United States with trial and obviously without incident,— Durbin said. “To think that there would be people who could be tried for war crimes or acts of terrorism and cannot be because they can’t be brought to the United States would be a miscarriage of justice.—

Still, Durbin said the question of Guantánamo’s closing could be decided during the current debate on the Defense Department authorization bill.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) has offered an amendment to prevent the president from transferring detainees to the United States for any purpose. The chamber could vote on that amendment this week.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said the delay is proof that the administration is unprepared to close Guantánamo, despite Obama’s executive order to shut the prison.

“Six months away from his arbitrary deadline for closing the prison, the American people are right to ask if the administration will import any of these terrorists into the United States,— Boehner said.

House Judiciary ranking member Lamar Smith (R-Texas) warned that the deadline for producing a plan is now just days before the deadline for shutting the facility.

“There will be no time for the American people to voice their opinions, no time for Congressional review and no time to ensure that the administration’s decisions will not endanger American lives,— he said.