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House panel unveils $48.3 billion foreign aid bill with limits on Guantanamo transfers

WASHINGTON - A House panel would impose new restrictions on the transfer of enemy combatants from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a reflection of congressional anger over President Barack Obama's swap of five Taliban leaders for an American soldier held captive for five years in Afghanistan.

The Appropriations foreign operations subcommittee late Monday unveiled a $48.3 billion foreign aid measure that cuts funds from the president's budget request and places conditions on U.S. assistance to a number of countries, including Egypt, Pakistan and Afghanistan, contingent on security and democratic moves.

The bill also would increase assistance to help Ukraine after Russia's annexation of Crimea and continued aggressive actions. Unnerved by the prospect of a Palestinian government with Hamas and the threat to Israel, lawmakers would tighten restrictions in the law to prohibit aid to the Palestinian Authority.

"This is a national security bill that prioritizes funding for embassy security, democracy assistance, our strategic partners such as Israel, and life-saving health and refugee programs," Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, chairwoman of the subcommittee, said in a statement.

The measure for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 would provide $708 million below the current budget for the State Department and foreign assistance and $277 million below the president's request. The overall amount includes $5.9 billion for overseas contingencies, including operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Congress has repeatedly thwarted Obama's campaign promise to close the prison at Guantanamo, barring the transfer of detainees and terror suspects to the United States.

The bill builds on those restrictions as Republicans and some Democrats were upset last month with the exchange of the five Taliban who had been held at Guantanamo for more than a decade for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, arguing that the United States gave up too much to secure his freedom.

The Taliban were sent to Qatar, where they are to remain for a year.

The House panel bill said no money in the legislation "may be obligated for any country ... that concludes an agreement with the United States to receive by transfer or release individuals detained at United States Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba," unless the secretary of state spells out to the panel the terms of the agreement.

Lawmakers have argued that the Obama administration violated the current defence authorization act by failing to notify Congress 30 days before the exchange.

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