Wednesday, April 26, 2006


Senate Shifts Iraq Funds to Border Patrol

Yahoo! News - The Senate voted Wednesday to divert some of the money President Bush requested for the war in Iraq to instead increase patrols against illegal immigrants on the nation's borders and provide the Coast Guard with new boats and helicopters.

An amendment was adopted, 59-39, to cut Bush's Iraq request by $1.9 billion to pay for new aircraft, patrol boats and other vehicles, as well as border checkpoints and a fence along the Mexico border crossing near San Diego.

Later, the Senate voted by a veto-proof 72-26 margin to kill an attempt by conservatives to cut the overall bill back to Bush's request — just a day after the White House issued a toughly worded promise to veto the $106.5 billion bill unless it is cut back to below $95 billion.

Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran, R-Ill. — the key architect of the bill — is unhappy with the veto threat and easily beat back a move by Craig Thomas, R-Wyo., to kill $12 billion in add-ons such as $4 billion in farm aid, $1.1 billion for Gulf Coast fisheries and money for a much-criticized $700 million relocation of a Mississippi freight rail line.

While the border security funds had broad support, Democrats and Republicans argued over whether the cuts to Pentagon war spending would harm troops in Iraq. The cuts, offered by Judd Gregg, R-N.H., would trim Bush's request for the war by almost 3 percent but don't specify how.

Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., said Gregg's cuts would "take money from troop pay, body armor and even the joint improvised explosive device defeat fund. Now that is a false choice and it is a wrong choice."

Gregg responded heatedly, arguing that the cuts eventually would come from other parts of the massive Pentagon budget rather than U.S. forces in Iraq.

"To come down here and allege that these funds are going to come out of the needs of the people on the front lines in Iraq or Afghanistan is pure poppycock," he said.

An amendment by Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada to add the border security funds but not tap the Pentagon for them failed by a 54-44 vote.

In its veto statement, the White House said the bill contains too many items that are "unrelated to the war or emergency hurricane relief needs." It said a final House-Senate compromise "must remain focused on addressing urgent national priorities while maintaining fiscal discipline."

The bill is sure to be carved back in House-Senate negotiations next month, and Bush may very well not have to follow through on his veto promise.

Gregg chairs the Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee. His border security plan focuses used on the capital needs of the Border Patrol and the Coast Guard, including new planes, helicopters, ships, communications equipment and a project to build a fence along the Mexico border near San Diego.

Gregg said his plan would "give the people who are defending us on our borders, the border security agents, the Custom agents, the Coast Guard, the tools they need to do their job right — the unmanned vehicles, the cars, the helicopters which are a critical part of our fight in the war on terrorism. It has to be done now."

The underlying bill contains $67.6 billion for Pentagon war operations and $27.1 billion for hurricane relief, including grants to states to build and repair housing and $2.1 billion for levees and flood control projects. The funding for hurricane relief exceeds Bush's request by $7.4 billion.