- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 30, 2006

Congress approved a series of war-related measures yesterday, including $70 billion more for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and a plan for trying detainees in the war on terrorism.

The United States is “safer, stronger and more prosperous” because of the legislation, congressional Republicans told reporters before leaving town to campaign for November’s midterm elections.

The Senate failed, however, to provide President Bush with the authority he wants to continue a wiretapping program that allows listening to international communications between suspected terrorists without a court order. That legislation was never taken up after House Republicans approved the measure earlier in the week.

Republicans focused instead on the passage of other security-related bills.

“The war against terror has been given incalculable support thanks to the recent enactment of legislation to clarify America’s authority to hold and try enemy terrorists,” House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, said yesterday. “We have begun the process of securing our national borders and bringing our immigration system back under control, with three major border security bills passed in recent weeks.”

With yesterday’s 250-170 vote in the House, the terror-detainee legislation can be sent directly to Mr. Bush for his signature.

The Senate yesterday unanimously cleared the military funding bill, providing $448 billion to the Defense Department, including a 2.2 percent pay raise for military personnel.

Since lawmakers failed to pass the bulk of the annual spending bills, however, they included language in the defense bill that funds the rest of the government agencies through Nov. 17.

The House voted 412-6 for a $34.8 billion spending bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security, and the Senate later followed suit, clearing it by voice vote. The measure includes $21.3 billion for border protection and immigration enforcement. It will help pay for 1,500 new Border Patrol agents, border fencing, vehicles and technology, and 6,700 new detention beds for illegal aliens.

Final legislation to bolster the nation’s port security programs in order to prevent terrorist attacks was heading toward passage in the House last night. The Senate earlier OK’d a motion that will automatically approve the bill once the House passes it.

Republicans included in the ports legislation a provision that cracks down on Internet gambling by banning credit card companies from processing these transactions.

The House also voted 398-23 to approve a massive defense authorization bill, but the Senate had not passed a measure by late last night. Besides laying out a military budget, the bill would have rolled back recent Navy and Air Force rules that House Republicans say wrongly pressure military chaplains to pray vague public prayers instead of praying in Jesus’ name or using other specifics of their faiths.

Conservatives received another disappointment late last night when most Senate Democrats and a handful of Republicans blocked final approval of House-passed legislation that would have punished anyone who skirts a state’s parental involvement law by taking a pregnant minor to another state to obtain an abortion without her parents’ knowledge. The measure, which fell short of the 60 votes it needed, also would have punished doctors who perform abortions on out-of-state minors without first contacting at least one of the parents.

Meanwhile, Senate and House Democrats held separate press conferences yesterday to criticize Republicans and Mr. Bush for refusing to acknowledge that the war in Iraq has encouraged terrorism and made America less safe. They cited the much-discussed April National Intelligence Estimate and Washington Post editor Bob Woodward’s new book, “State of Denial,” which strongly criticizes the administration.

“He has become Mr. Rosy Scenario,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said of Mr. Bush. “The fact is his actions have not made us safer.”

The California Democrat said Mr. Bush is in “denial” about the level of violence in Iraq and the mistakes his administration has made. “What he says is not in touch with reality,” she said, insisting Democrats “can protect America in a way that will … uphold the Constitution.”

Senate Democrats renewed their calls to replace Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, especially in light of Mr. Woodward’s critical new book. “This secretary of defense has made deadly mistakes from the start,” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat.

Republicans countered by saying that the economy is strong and the country has not been attacked within its borders since September 11, 2001.

“Jobs are being created, and new investments are pouring into our economy,” Mr. Hastert said. “As we continue to help win the war abroad, protect our borders and homeland, and make positive reforms here at home, we have not lost sight of the ever-present fact that much more must be done.”

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