- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 24, 2002

The House voted yesterday to support restoring food stamp benefits to legal immigrants in a nonbinding resolution that supporters hope will settle a House-Senate dispute over the farm bill.
House negotiators are struggling with their Senate counterparts to strike a deal on the bill, and one of the differences is over the Senate's provision to restore to legal immigrants food-stamp privileges that were eliminated in the 1996 welfare reforms. The original House bill has no such provision.
The House voted 244-171 to ignore its own bill and instead support the Senate's provisions, with 47 Republicans joining 196 Democrats and one independent in supporting the Senate version. Voting against the resolution were 165 Republicans, five Democrats and one independent.
"The Senate bill builds upon principles of basic fairness so should we," said Rep. Joe Baca, California Democrat, who sponsored the "motion to instruct conferees."
"It's time that all hard-working, taxpaying residents of this country be eligible for the same benefits," he said.
Still, since yesterday's vote is nonbinding, Republican leaders said they don't expect it to change the ongoing conference with the Senate and with the Bush administration, which supports partial restoration of benefits but doesn't go as far as the Senate.
"The expression 'It's not binding' is not lost on very many conferees," said House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican, who voted against the resolution. "I don't think that the conferees will feel bound by it. In the meantime, we believe Bob Goodlatte will come to the correct resolution with his negotiations over at the White House."
Mr. Goodlatte, Virginia Republican, is his party's chief House negotiator on the food-stamp issue. Mr. Goodlatte and his fellow Republican negotiators had pushed a proposal to restore benefits only to children and the handicapped.
But Democrat leaders and members of the Hispanic Caucus yesterday said full restoration of benefits, which would apply to more than 350,000 legal residents, is a must in the final farm bill. They said Republicans who oppose the measure will suffer politically.
"The vote today will tell us who stands with legal permanent residents and their families, and who stands against them," said Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat and vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.
He said yesterday was the third recent vote in which many Republicans have opposed the interests of immigrants and Hispanics. The others were last month's vote in which a Republican-led charge almost sank the administration's push for amnesty for some illegal aliens, and a vote in the campaign-finance debate in which some Republicans tried to prohibit green card holders from being able to contribute to federal campaigns.
But Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican, said his party should not expect to compete with Democrats for Hispanic voters, especially when it comes to offering federal benefits.
"We will never be able to outbid Democrats for the votes of minority groups," he said.
He also said offering food stamps defeats the part of the green card application process when the applicant's sponsor certifies that the applicant will be taken care of financially and not become a "charge of the state."
Mr. Armey also said yesterday that the House probably will take up the border security bill without the president's hoped-for amnesty provisions later this week.
This version of the bill, which tightens visa restrictions, funds border guards and requires federal agencies to share information to better track foreign visitors, passed the Senate last week and will go straight to the president after House passage.
In a prior version the House had included a provision offering amnesty to some immigrants who have overstayed their entry visas and, in some cases, who have entered the country illegally. In exchange for a $1,000 penalty, the illegal aliens could have their legal status adjusted. But the Senate set that provision aside.


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