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White House finalizing plan to close Guantanamo

A Public Affairs Officer escorts media through the currently closed Camp X-Ray which was the first detention facility to hold 'enemy combatants' at the U.S. Naval Station on June 27, 2013 in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Joe Raedle, Getty Images

WASHINGTON -- The White House is close to bringing Congress another plan for closing the prison for terrorism detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a campaign pledge that President Barack Obama hasn't given up on, his spokesman said Wednesday.

"There has got to be a better way for us to spend taxpayer dollars than to spend more than $100 million a year operating a prison that only has, I think now, 116 inmates," press secretary Josh Earnest said. "There also has to be a better way for us to protect our national security interests than to deliver on a silver platter a particularly effective recruiting tool for terrorists, which is to continue the operation of that prison."

Under a defense policy bill passed by the Senate, lawmakers would consider the White House plan and decide whether to ease restrictions that make it harder for Mr. Obama to transfer detainees out of the prison at the U.S. naval base in an effort to close it.

The House version of the legislation doesn't contain that provision, however, and it may not survive when lawmakers finish negotiating a compromise version of the entire bill.

The White House has threatened a veto of the defense bill over several issues, including if it makes it harder to close the Guantanamo Bay prison. Congress has repeatedly stymied the president's plans to close the prison in the past, however, and Mr. Obama has backed down from similar veto threats.

Earnest said the administration was in the "final stages" of drafting the plan for Congress. Sen. John McCain, the Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War, proposed creating this new path toward the possibility of closing the Guantanamo Bay facility.

But there's opposition among many Republicans and Democrats, too. Lawmakers fear that detainees from the war on terror sent home to the Middle East will return to the battlefield. They also object to moving them into U.S. prisons.

House Speaker John Boehner's office said in a statement that bipartisan majorities in Congress oppose "closing Guantanamo Bay and bringing dangerous terrorists to U.S. soil."