House passes security spending

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The House passed a $36 billion Homeland Security Department appropriations bill yesterday, despite objections from Republicans that the measure provides too little money for fencing along the U.S.-Mexican border.

“Most significantly, this measure fails to fully fund the Secure Fence Act that was enacted by Republicans in the last Congress to build hundreds of miles of additional fencing along our southern border and to modernize our border security infrastructure,” said House Republican leader John A. Boehner of Ohio. “Securing our borders and reinforcing our Border Patrol agents is critical to reforming our immigration system.”

The bill passed 268-150, with 45 Republicans supporting the legislation crafted by Democrats. Two Democrats voted against the bill — Reps. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio and Pete Stark of California.

President Bush has threatened to veto the bill because it exceeds his budget request.

“House Democrats moved forward on a crucial priority by passing a fiscally responsible homeland security appropriations bill that puts the safety and security of the American public and families first,” Democratic leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland said.

But Republicans say the $1 billion provided by the bill for fencing and tactical support is woefully short of what’s needed to build the 854-mile, double-layer fence on the border that was authorized last year by Congress but never funded.

Cost estimates for the fence vary by billions of dollars.

The Democrat-controlled chamber also rejected an amendment by Rep. Trent Franks, Arizona Republican, that would have required the necessary funds for the entire fence project.

“As long as our southern border remains one of our country’s most critical national security vulnerabilities, and as long as my Democratic colleagues continue to vote against securing our domestic border, we will be left with no answer to our citizens if and when they are subjected to a massive terrorist attack stemming from an unsecure border,” Mr. Franks said.

Democrats said the money the bill provides for fencing is exactly what the president requested.

“The additional money that was rejected [in the Franks amendment] was not requested by the president,” said Kirstin Brost, spokeswoman for Rep. David R. Obey, Wisconsin Democrat and chairman of the Appropriations Committee.

Republicans also objected to the bill’s overall cost, which is about $2.5 billion more than last year, and $2 billion more than the president’s budget request for fiscal 2008, which begins Oct. 1.

“Democrats this Congress have put forward an agenda focused on raising new taxes and proposing new spending,” said House Minority Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri. “This first appropriations bill [of 2008] is further proof of that strategy.”

Democrats defended the spending increase by saying that past Republican-controlled Congresses neglected homeland security issues.

“We are spending $10 billion a month in Iraq,” Mr. Hoyer said. “Given our continuing homeland security vulnerabilities, we can surely find $2 billion to keep the American people safer at home.”

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