- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Senate Republicans proposed immediately spending nearly $2 billion to combat illegal border crossings, making an end run around Democrats and some Republicans who oppose border-security legislation that doesn’t include a guest-worker program or what many consider to be amnesty.

“We need to make sure — first and foremost — that our borders are secure,” Majority Leader Bill Frist told reporters yesterday. “It will take increased resources.”

The $1.9 billion amendment, sponsored by Budget Committee Chairman Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, would direct millions of dollars in emergency funding for additional border patrol agents, border patrol vehicles, new stations and checkpoints, and enhanced surveillance of border crossings.

The proposal also includes $790 million to repair and replace the Customs and Border Protection (CPB) fleet of helicopters and airplanes. Perhaps fittingly, the proposed new spending came on the same day the CPB’s only remaining unmanned aerial surveillance vehicle crashed along the border with Mexico, Mr. Gregg said.

The move comes after 20 Senate Republicans earlier this month joined all but two Democrats in opposing a stand-alone bill to secure the borders. They say they will block any border-security bill that does not include more contentious provisions, such as a guest-worker program or a path to citizenship for illegals. Many of the strongest supporters of border security say that giving illegal aliens a path to citizenship amounts to granting them amnesty.

Yesterday’s proposal would spend roughly the same amount on border security as the more comprehensive immigration bill that was debated in the House last year, according to an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office. But by the time it was approved, however, an estimated $2 billion in amendments had been added.

The $1.9 billion cash infusion — which would be shared by the U.S. Coast Guard — would be a significant boost for the border agency, which was appropriated $1.74 billion in the current fiscal year, according to congressional figures.

Mr. Gregg wants to add the spending to the $92 billion emergency-spending bill President Bush requested earlier this year to pay for the war in Iraq and rebuilding efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. In the hands of Senate appropriators, that spending proposal has ballooned to more than $100 billion to include pet projects far beyond Iraq fighting and Katrina damage.

Border security, he said, is certainly an emergency and is crucial in the war on terrorism.

“We are an inviting nation, and we’ve always felt strongly that we should have reasonably open borders,” Mr. Gregg said yesterday. “But in the post-9/11 world, and especially in light of the dramatic number of people who have been coming into this country illegally, we can no longer tolerate that approach, unfortunately. We need to put a more aggressive effort into making sure we know who is coming in through our borders.”

His proposed spending would be offset by cuts elsewhere to Mr. Bush’s spending request, he said.

Democrats indicated strong support for Mr. Gregg’s proposal, though some quibbled with the cuts he offered with it.

“If we are truly serious about securing our borders — and not just engaging in rhetoric and hot air — then we will put real dollars where the rubber hits the road,” said Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat.

Late yesterday, Minority Leader Harry Reid, who opposed the border-security-only bill earlier this month, offered a similar proposal but without the offsets.

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