- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 1, 2006

In the last legislative week before lawmakers head to their states and districts to campaign, Congress was able to pass legislation on immigration and security that is vital for the nation and useful for incumbent Republicans heading into what many analysts expect to be a tough election year. Below we outline the accomplishments in the areas of immigration and national security — two central themes of the upcoming elections.

Immigration: On Friday evening, the Senate voted in favor of building a 700- mile fence along sections of the southern border, endorsing an enforcement-first approach to immigration policy and tabling efforts for an unpopular guest-worker program. In the homeland security appropriations bill, Congress secured $1.2 billion of the approximately $6 billion it will cost to construct the double-layered fence.

This bill falls short of the fuller border-security and enforcement provisions that Congress should have passed. The Senate failed to take up several of the measures included in the House bill, such as increasing the authority for state and local law enforcers and establishing a federal voter-identification requirement. It is, nevertheless, both an important step in securing the border and the most politically important piece of legislation for Republicans during this midterm election season. Not only will the law rally conservatives, but in fact 60 percent to 70 percent of the total electorate will approve of these measures.

The political appeal of this legislation was not overlooked by Senate Democrats, either. Among the 17 Democratic senators who voted against legislation, two — Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Robert Menendez in New Jersey — are in very competitive re-election races. The influential Cook report lists Mr. Menendez’s seat as a toss-up. The only Republican to vote against the measure was, not surprisingly, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, who voted with Democrats on the important detainee bill as well.

Eight Democratic Senators tried to stop the bill by voting against the cloture motion and then reversing course and voting for the bill when it seemed certain it would pass. These efforts should not go unnoticed, lest any of the senators try later to pass themselves off as tough on illegal immigration. Three of the senators are running for re-election: Thomas Carper of Delaware, Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Herb Kohl of Wisconsin. The others are Barack Obama of Illinois, Charles E. Schumer of New York, Barbara Boxer of California, Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut and Tom Harkin of Iowa.

Appropriations: The conference committee reports of both the Department of Defense and homeland security appropriations bills were agreed to last week. Noteworthy is that in addition to the $1.2 billion for the border fence, the homeland security legislation increases spending on border control by 10 percent and adds 4,000 new agents.

Security: In a 65-34 vote, the Senate passed a bill that supports President Bush’s guidelines for prisoner interrogation and authorizes the use of military tribunals to try suspected terrorists. In its Hamdan decision, the Supreme Court had struck down Mr. Bush’s use of these tribunals, citing a lack of explicit authorization from Congress. Also in jeopardy were CIA interrogations of terror suspects, which, despite several documented successes, were under fierce attack from Democratic and even three Republican senators. It was essential, therefore, for Congress to respond in order to preserve this important asset. The American people will applaud Congress’ decision to uphold Mr. Bush’s reasonable rules for interrogating suspected members of al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations.

Indicative of its political weight, voting for the measure in the Senate were 12 Democrats, including Mr. Lieberman, Mr. Menendez, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and Ben Nelson of Nebraska. The Cook report lists the Michigan and the Nebraska seat as only leaning Democratic, meaning that both senators hold an advantage in a competitive race.

The House passed a bill authorizing the National Security Agency’s terrorist surveillance program, but the Senate failed to consider a similar measure last week. The NSA wiretapping program is another vital asset that has come under judicial fire — only unlike the Supreme Court’s Hamdan decision on the use of military tribunals, the decision from a liberal judge on the U.S. District Court in Michigan lacked any semblance of respectable legal thought. When it returns from its recess, passing a version of the House bill should be high on the agenda.

Congress’ last week cannot fairly be heralded as a resounding success, but congressional Republicans deserve praise for passing substantively important legislation. The legislation will also provide a useful base heading into the Nov. 7 elections.

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