Democrats delay conference on supplemental

Democratic leaders postponed a House-Senate conference meeting they hoped would produce a compromise fiscal 2009 war supplemental spending bill Thursday after it appeared they might not have enough votes to pass the measure in the House.

While it remained unclear when the conference would convene, the office of House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., office said it expects the House to take up a conference report on the supplemental early next week.

Democratic leaders are counting on convincing 18 of 51 self-described liberal or progressive Democrats who previously opposed the supplemental to now support it, enough Caucus members to ensure its passage.

The 18 Democrats would offset the loss of support from Republicans who have said they oppose the package over inclusion of what they claim is an extraneous provision that would provide $5 billion to increase lending capacity at the International Monetary Fund.

But liberal Democrats are threatening to withhold their support for the supplemental if it includes a provision in the Senate-passed bill that would allow Defense Secretary Robert Gates to withhold any "photograph relating to the treatment of individuals engaged, captured, or detained after September 11, 2001, by the Armed Forces of the United States" if he certifies that the release of the photos could endanger citizens or the armed forces.

The provision, which is supported by President Obama, was offered as an amendment by Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn.

Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass. -- who initially opposed the package and is now trying to help Democratic leaders raise support for it -- said he recently told Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner that liberal Democrats would not likely support the package if it includes the Lieberman amendment.

"I made it clear to the administration that I believe that we can get liberals like myself who are against the war [to] vote for it because the IMF is so important, but not if the [Freedom of Information Act] exception is in it," Frank said.

Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., previously supported the supplemental but said she would not vote for the bill if it includes the amendment.

"There is no reason in the world for us to vote to suspend" FOIA, Slaughter said.

While House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Murtha, D-Pa., conceded "we got big problems" with trying to pass the supplemental, he asserted that it would clear Congress by July 1. The military has said it needs the funding by July to avoid a disruption in other accounts, which would have to be raided to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Defense Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member C.W. (Bill) Young, R-Fla., echoed Murtha's comments. "It'll get done" by July, Young said. "We're at the point now it'll get done."

Billy House contributed to this report

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