Wednesday, April 20, 2005

From combined dispatches

The Senate yesterday approved an extra 650 Border Patrol agents as well as more immigration investigators and detention space as part of the emergency war-spending bill.

In a 65-34 vote, the Senate accepted a proposal by Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, to shift $389.6 million from diplomatic and consular programs to pay for the new agents, 2,000 additional detention beds, 250 immigration investigators and 168 new immigration-enforcement agents and deportation officers.

The move is a rebuke of President Bush, who signed a bill last year calling for 2,000 new Border Patrol agents each year for five years, as well as increases in the other areas, but submitted a budget calling for only 210 new agents and far fewer detention beds.

“We ask how and why illegal aliens continue to pour into our country, and the answer lies in every Border Patrol increase we do not fund, every agent we do not hire and every illegal alien we release due to lack of detention space,” Mr. Byrd said.

In the vote, 21 Republicans joined all 44 Democrats in supporting the new spending.

Also yesterday, senators blocked Pentagon plans to scrap one of the country’s 12 aircraft carriers. Approved on a 58-38 vote, the provision was included as an amendment to the Senate’s nearly $81 billion bill for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Lawmakers say the USS John F. Kennedy, based in Florida and commissioned in 1968, is the most likely candidate for retirement because of its age and because it’s one of only two conventionally operated carriers left in a fleet of mostly nuclear-powered vessels. The plan to shut down a carrier was included in Mr. Bush’s budget proposal for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

The House did not include such a provision in its version of the war-spending package passed last month. That means the conflict will have to be resolved when both chambers meet to write the final legislation.

The carrier plan has become a highly political fight on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers from both parties have accused Pentagon officials of wanting to scrap a carrier solely to absorb budget cuts. Congressional critics say the move could affect national security adversely. Pentagon officials say the Navy can perform the same functions with 11 carriers, although Navy officers have expressed reservations.

Yesterday’s amendment was backed by Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Supporters of the Warner amendment said it is shortsighted to scale back the carrier fleet while the United States is at war, China is building up its Navy and threats are emerging from other Pacific Rim countries.

In another budget move yesterday, the Senate voted 54-45 to spend $592 million for a new embassy in Iraq. That vote sets up a showdown with the House, which removed from its version of the bill money for the Baghdad compound that would be the largest U.S. embassy in world.

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