- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 21, 2005

The Senate passed an $81 billion bill yesterday to fund ongoing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, after a weeklong fight over immigration policy in which senators turned back a limited amnesty program for illegal immigrant agriculture workers and added Border Patrol agents.

But the Senate was silent on immigration border security provisions, included in the House version of the bill, that would crack down on illegal aliens’ ability to use government-issued identification, limit asylum claims and complete a section of border fence near San Diego.

In the bill, which also includes aid to victims of the Dec. 26 Indian Ocean tsunami, senators added more money for armored military vehicles and tweaked other spending requested by President Bush.

The bill passed by a vote of 99-0 — a major shift from two years ago when the war in Iraq was a more hotly debated political issue and 12 senators voted against an $87 billion supplemental spending package. That vote came back to haunt Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, who famously told an audience during his presidential campaign last year, ?I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it.?

The Pentagon is calling for immediate action on a final House-Senate compromise, and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran, Mississippi Republican, said he thinks a compromise will be reached quickly.

?I’m confident we’ll be able to come back with a product in the form of a conference report which the Senate can support, which will continue to support the additional funding that’s needed for this fiscal year for our troops in the field,? Mr. Cochran said.

The House-passed version totaled $81.4 billion, while Mr. Bush requested $81.9 billion.

Now the House and Senate must square their versions before approving a final bill and sending it to Mr. Bush. Although the chambers differ over the amount of money to be directed to specific military operations and expenses, the biggest fight may be over the immigration provisions.

One senior Senate Democratic aide said senators face an uphill fight to remove the House provisions. ?It’s difficult to think opponents of the legislation are going to have much chance to strike it in conference, but that doesn’t mean we’re not going to try,? the aide said.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, had wanted to offer an amendment that would have put the Senate on record opposing the House provisions, but that was struck down by the rules of debate. Sen. Johnny Isakson, Georgia Republican, had prepared an amendment to specifically attach the House provisions to the Senate bill, but he said he was happier having the issue settled in the House-Senate conference.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, said this week that the House will insist on its amendment.

?I think we have a very strong position to support,? he said. ?This bill is to fight the war on terror. Part of fighting the war on terror is border security, and I think we can make that case.?

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