- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 15, 2006

House Republican leaders yesterday thwarted an effort by party members to redirect funds to offset the $91 billion spending bill for wars and hurricane recovery, angering fiscal conservatives who threatened to continue similar efforts.

Twenty-nine conservatives — mostly members of the Republican Study Committee (RSC) — tried to block the bill, saying budgeted money not being used by the Bush administration should help pay for the bill.

“House conservatives are profoundly disappointed that members are being forced to choose between protecting the troops and fiscal discipline,” said Rep. Mike Pence, the Indiana Republican who leads the RSC.

The RSC also wanted to split the hurricane money and war funding into two separate bills.

The leaders managed to secure 22 Democratic votes in support of the bill, so they avoided embarrassment and pushed the massive spending bill to the floor, 218-200. The House will vote on the bill itself today.

Mr. Pence warned there will be future situations where Democrats won’t cooperate, and “those 29 votes are needed.”

A senior House Republican leadership aide said the RSC rejected several offers, including the opportunity to try to strip the Hurricane Katrina portions out of the massive spending bill.

Mr. Pence said the offers were insufficient. “We have got to put our fiscal house in order,” he said.

On the other side of the Capitol, Senate Republicans successfully pushed for more spending on port security, immigration enforcement and community-development grants, as the Senate considered its 2007 budget blueprint yesterday.

Senators voted 90-8 to spend nearly $1 billion on ports security, in the wake of the scandal over a Dubai-owned company’s attempt to take over some U.S. port operations.

They also boosted spending for immigration enforcement by $2 billion and grants for low-income communities by $1.3 billion. A final vote is expected by week’s end.

Senate Democrats in both chambers have seized on the issue of vulnerable ports to criticize Republicans, and they vowed yesterday to continue that effort.

Sen. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat, offered a budget amendment requesting $965 million to bolster ports security. It was defeated 53-43.

Republicans thwarted his effort by offering their own proposal, to spend $978 million on ports security, including background checks for port workers. It passed 90-8.

Mr. Menendez said Republicans acted only because Democrats acted first. “We’re happy to have led on it,” he said.

Meanwhile, House Republican leaders blocked Democrats yesterday, 224-192, from offering a ports-related amendment to the war- and hurricane-spending bill.

The Democrats’ proposal would have reformed the interagency panel that approves deals such as DP World’s bid to operate U.S. port terminals.

“The Republicans are still resisting change,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said of ports-security issues.

Republicans dismissed such accusations. A House Republican leadership aide said Republicans will use the normal process to move ports-security legislation, as opposed to what the aide called the “political stunts” Democrats are trying.

The Dubai company at the heart of the ports debate backed off of its deal last week, and yesterday pledged to sell the port operations to a U.S. company within six months.

House Republicans still plan to push ahead with a proposal to kill the deal, which they added last week to the war- and hurricane-spending measure.

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