WASHINGTON (CN) – The House Appropriations Committee approved an emergency supplementary budget Thursday providing an additional $94.2 billion to federal agencies for 2009, an amount $9.3 billion higher than requested by President Barack Obama. The debate spiraled down into insults and yelling as Republican efforts to divert money towards law enforcement along the U.S- Mexico border were repeatedly voted down by Democrats.
Chairman David Obey, a Wisconsin Democrat, noted that money to install more agents along the border was included in the Recovery Act. “Remember? That’s the one you voted against!” he told Republican legislators.
“There’s not enough bipartisanship around here. It’s not a laughing matter,” said Representative Frank Wolf, Republican from Virginia.
“Well, you need to sit down in a bipartisan way” when the budget is being written, Obey replied.
Democrats objected when Republican members of the committee introduced last-minute amendments without giving the committee enough time to read them.
Republicans in turn appeared furious that their amendments failed again and again. They proposed diverting funds away from international assistance programs and nuclear-nonproliferation funds for North Korea.
The debate then veered toward what Obey defined as the committee’s jurisdiction to touch on the closing of the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay.
The committee deals with emergency supplemental funds where not enough funds were provided in the original budget. In the supplemental budget request for this year, the committee designated an extra $10 billion for the State Department, an amount $3 billion higher than the department requested.
Within those extra funds, the committee directed $470 million of the State Department’s funds to Mexico to help fight drug violence and $23.5 million to North Korea for nuclear non-proliferation.
It did not, however, designate any money for closing Guantanamo, despite the Defense Department’s request of $80 million to do so.
In earlier hearings, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said non-proliferation funds would likely not be going to North Korea because the country is unlikely to return to the six-party talks. When pressed on that issue Thursday, Obey said the money would be used “for some other non-proliferation purpose.”
Acting as though the money was up for grabs, a Republican committee member argued that it should go toward securing the border “since the chairman doesn’t even know the purpose of the funds.”
At the apparent insult, the crowd attending the hearing made a quiet, collective gasp.
“The purpose is classified and you ought to know that,” Obey yelled.
When the issue of Guantanamo came up, Republicans tried to bar the Department of Justice from moving the prisoners. Wolf of Virginia accused the DOJ of attempting to release 30 Uighurs into Virginia last Friday.
The Uighurs are a group of prisoners held at Guantanamo after they were rounded up by U.S. forces for staging terrorist attacks against China, but the George W. Bush administration determined they were not a threat to the United States.
Representative Todd Tiahrt, a Republican from Kansas, asked, “Do you want to release terrorists in your home town?” He said we should move the prisoners to other countries, but not to the United States. “Don’t bring them to America!”
“But the Bush administration determined that these Uighurs were no threat to the United States in any way,” argued Representative John Murtha, a Democrat from Pennsylvania.
“I don’t always agree with the Bush administration,” Wolf snapped.
At that point, Obey reminded the committee that its role is financing and said he doubted anyone on the committee should be deciding the fate of Guantanamo. His comment was promptly and widely ignored.
“Should we not prosecute them? There is no justice in Guantanamo. Should we let them sit in a cell and rot? We believe in habeas corpus and in equal justice under the law,” Murtha said in a long-winded speech.
The habeas corpus process allows prisoners to challenge their detention. Often called “The Great Writ,” it commands the recipient to bring the prisoner before the court.
After further debate in the house committee on the subject of Uighurs, staff members contacted the Department of Justice and were told that the department had not in fact tried to release the Uighurs into Virginia last Friday.