This was a vote on a motion by Rep Lewis (R-CA) to have the House instruct its conferees to agree to certain spending levels in the Senate version of H.R. 2346 that were lower than the numbers in the House version. The motion also instructed the House conferees to agree to language in the Senate version of H.R. 2346 prohibiting the release of photographs of suspected terrorists being held at the Guantanamo Bay prison. The release of these photographs had become a very controversial issue. Those supporting the release argued that it was consistent with the practices of an open society. Those opposed argued that it could threaten national security.
Instructions to conferees serve as an opportunity for House Members to express their preferences. However, under House procedures, these instructions are considered advisory and are not formally binding on the conferees.
H.R. 2346 provided supplemental fiscal year 2009 spending authority for a number of federal departments and agencies. The House and Senate had passed differing versions of H.R. 2346, and a conference with negotiators from the two bodies was to be convened to reconcile those two versions.
Rep. Lewis explained that he favored generally reduced funding levels. He noted, however, that his motion would provide that the House conferees hold the House position in the conference with the Senate conferees on House-passed funding levels for defense and military construction.
Regarding the prohibition on the release of the photos, Rep. Lungren (R-CA) supported the motion by noting that the United States never released photos of detainees in any prior military conflict. He also argued that those who support the release of the photos are “saying somehow we are protecting our values by doing something we have never done before. We are jeopardizing the national security interests of the United States. We are putting Americans, innocent Americans, at risk . . . .”
Rep. Obey, the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee who was leading the effort to pass the supplemental appropriations bill, announced that “I intend to vote ‘no’' on the (motion), but I don't have any problem with any Member who decides that there are certain pieces of this motion that they would like to send a message to the conferees on.” He added that: “(M)otions to instruct conferees are notorious . . . for simply being a device by which we either make political statements around here or express first preferences. I don't really have any objection to either. I think it's a legitimate thing to do in a legislative body.”
Obey did go on to say “(T)he effect of this motion would be to substantially increase the likely amount of money approved by the conference for the Defense Department, and to substantially reduce the amount of money provided for the State Department. I have always had difficulty understanding why people are willing to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to wage war but are resistant to spending a tiny amount in comparison in order to prevent war or to extricate ourselves from war.
‘In fact, the conference report that is likely to come back will probably exceed the numbers in this motion for bringing State Department personnel more immediately into Iraq, into Afghanistan and into Pakistan. We are trying to convert that operation from, essentially, a military operation to a much more balanced operation, which includes much greater effort on the diplomatic side to extricate ourselves from that war. That requires money. It requires facilities. As many military experts have said, you cannot win this if you just deal with it militarily.”
The motion passed by a vote of 267-152. One hundred seventy-two Republicans and ninety-five Democrats voted “aye”. One hundred and forty-eight Democrats, including the vast majority of the most progressive House Members, and four Republicans voted “nay”. As a result, the House instructed its conferees on the 2009 supplemental funding bill to agree both to the lower overall Senate funding levels and to the Senate language prohibiting the release of photos of Guantanamo detainees who were suspected terrorists.