- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 9, 2006

The House Appropriations Committee voted overwhelmingly yesterday to break with President Bush and block the deal to transfer management of operations at six key U.S. ports to a Dubai-owned company.

Lawmakers said the vote was designed to be a wake-up call for the administration about the strength of opposition to the deal, both among voters and among members of Congress who are up for re-election in November.

“We want a little more appreciation from the White House that this is a great concern to many of us and to our constituents,” said Rep. Anne M. Northup, Kentucky Republican. “It’s not as though Congress has a lot of ways to get the president’s attention.”

The committee voted 62-2 to scuttle the transfer of management of operations at some U.S. ports to the state-run DP World. The panel passed the proposal as an amendment to the president’s emergency spending request for hurricane relief and the war on terror, making it hard for President Bush to carry out his veto threat against that bill.

“It’s very important to protect our ports from this kind of foreign involvement right now,” said committee Chairman Jerry Lewis, California Republican. “I’ve heard, from many of my constituents, pretty strong views.”

Voting against the amendment were Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat, and Rep. Jim Kolbe, Arizona Republican.

Mr. Moran called the vote “premature,” given a pending 45-day investigation into the deal, and Mr. Kolbe said the focus should be on port security, not this transaction.

But the committee defeated, on a 35-30 vote, a Democratic amendment that would reform the interagency panel responsible for approving such foreign deals. Some members supported the idea, but said it was a matter best left to other committees.

The White House remains publicly committed to the ports deal, and although administration officials said yesterday that the veto threat stands, they emphasized that they are willing to listen to Congress.

The administration has asked that lawmakers wait until after a 45-day investigation into the deal, and spokeswoman Dana Perino said it is asking members of Congress and state and local officials what questions the investigation should answer.

But the White House opposed yesterday’s amendment, arguing that it could hurt administration priorities.

“We’re concerned that attempts to address this issue in pending supplementals could slow down passage of legislation required to equip our troops with what they need to win in Iraq and the global war on terror and provide critical funds to rebuild the Gulf Coast and help those affected by last year’s hurricanes,” Mrs. Perino said.

A source familiar with administration officials’ thinking said officials realize they will have to negotiate a solution.

“It’s going to get negotiated and it’s going to have to be negotiated, and the only question is how does the story end,” the source said. “It’s difficult to imagine the deal goes through without substantial modification.”

Congressional Republicans said the more time has passed, the more questions are raised over the commitment to American principles and the war on terrorism from the United Arab Emirates, a loose confederation of Dubai and six other Persian Gulf emirates.

The administration’s defense also hasn’t stopped the negative questions and comments flooding members’ offices, said Rep. Jack Kingston, Georgia Republican.

“One of the political realities is if you’re explaining in three paragraphs why the collective intuition of the American people is wrong, you’re losing,” he said.

House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican, said his caucus decided to act against the deal because of a clear consensus among members and also because they realized that if Republicans didn’t act, Democrats would force the issue.

The spending bill is a long way from reaching Mr. Bush’s desk however, Mr. Blunt said, so that “gives the president some time to see if he can craft a security agreement that works.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, tried to force a Senate debate yesterday, attempting to block the Dubai deal in an amendment to the lobbying reform legislation pending on the chamber floor.

Senate Republican leaders — angry that he hadn’t told them of his plan — immediately moved to kill his proposal, with a motion to force a final vote on the underlying lobbying reform bill. The vote is expected sometime in the next few days, but Democratic leaders said that even if they fail, they will try to block the deal through amendments to other bills.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, said Mr. Frist prefers to let the 45-day review of the Dubai deal progress before deciding whether to act. He is willing to hear from members who have legislation on the topic, but Mr. Schumer’s move “gummed up” the lobbying bill and was inappropriate, the aide said.

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