- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 28, 2006

Two must-pass defense and homeland security bills are being blocked in a fight between Republican lawmakers about border and immigration security measures.

The homeland security appropriation bill and the defense authorization bill are among the handful of pieces of legislation that lawmakers had hoped to complete this week before heading home for the November elections. Now both are stalled because Republican House leaders want to include a series of measures passed in their chamber designed to strengthen border security and toughen immigration enforcement.

Democrats charged the Republicans were playing politics with vital legislation and accused House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, of “Soviet”-style tactics.

The half-dozen or so measures slated for inclusion in the homeland security bill include language that would allow state and local police forces to investigate, arrest, detain or transfer to federal custody anyone found in the country illegally or in violation of their immigration status; a bill that would make it a crime to tunnel under the border; and other legislation intended to make it easier to deport or deny entry to illegal alien gang members.

House leaders also reportedly want changes to language in the homeland security bill that would move back by 19 months a deadline for the introduction of stricter border-entry requirement for U.S. and Canadian citizens.

On the defense bill, House leaders want to include an anti-gang crime provision, and legislation toughening security for federal judges, which includes a provision for the carrying of concealed firearms.

But the measures in question are contentious, and Republican Sens. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, on the homeland security bill, and John W. Warner of Virginia, on the defense bill, are blocking the efforts, saying they break procedural traditions, jeopardize bipartisanship and have not been properly debated.

In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, Mr. Warner voiced his “strong objection” to “the desire of a number of colleagues, almost all non-members of the defense committees, to have the conferees agree to include in the conference report nine or more bills all of which … are ‘out-of-scope,’” meaning they are not germane to the underlying substance of the bill.

He says that at least three Republican members of the House-Senate conference committee considering the defense bill would refuse to sign onto legislation that included such measures, which means there would not be enough votes to pass the legislation out of conference and on for a final vote in both chambers.

Mr. Specter, who wrote to Mr. Frist, Mr. Hastert and the two chairmen of the House panels that Monday night voted to approve the homeland security appropriations bill, voiced “grave concern” about “altering an already-approved conference report,” and likewise threatened to remove his signature if changes were made.

Without his signature, an amended bill would not get to the floor.

Angry Democrats lashed out at Mr. Hastert for trying to change the outcome of votes in the conference committee he did not like. “What is this, the Soviet Parliament?” asked Rep. David R. Obey of Wisconsin, the ranking House Appropriations Committee Democrat in accusing the leadership of making “decisions behind closed doors, regardless of the rules.”

Mr. Hastert’s office did not return several calls requesting comment.

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