Senate diverts some Iraq war money to tighten borders and port security |

Senate diverts some Iraq war money to tighten borders and port security

WASHINGTON – The Senate voted Wednesday to divert some of the money President Bush requested for the war in Iraq to instead increase security on the nation’s borders and provide the Coast Guard with new boats and helicopters.Senators also ignored a White House veto threat and overwhelmingly voted against cutting a $106.5 billion measure funding Iraq, further hurricane relief for the Gulf Coast – and a slew of add-ons opposed by fiscal conservatives and Bush.Among those add-ons is a $700 million project to relocate a rail line along the Mississippi coast so the state can build a new east-west highway to spur economic development and ease transportation woes. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., moved Wednesday to strike the project, saying it doesn’t belong in the emergency war funding bill, though he’s not confident of his chances.On border security, the Senate voted 59-39 for a plan to cut Bush’s Iraq request by $1.9 billion to pay for new aircraft, patrol boats and other vehicles, as well as border checkpoints and a fence along the Mexico border crossing near San Diego.While the border security funds had broad support, Democrats and Republicans argued over whether the cuts to Pentagon war spending would harm troops in Iraq. The cuts, offered by Judd Gregg, R-N.H., would trim Bush’s request for the war by almost 3 percent but don’t specify how.Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., said Gregg’s cuts would “take money from troop pay, body armor and even the joint improvised explosive device defeat fund. Now that is a false choice and it is a wrong choice.”Gregg argued that the cuts eventually would come from other parts of the massive Pentagon budget rather than U.S. forces in Iraq.”To come down here and allege that these funds are going to come out of the needs of the people on the front lines in Iraq or Afghanistan is pure poppycock,” he said.An amendment by Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada to add the border security funds but not tap the Pentagon for them failed by a 54-44 vote.The Senate voted by a veto-proof 72-26 margin to kill an attempt by conservatives to cut the overall bill back to Bush’s request – just a day after the White House issued a toughly worded promise to veto the $106.5 billion bill unless it is cut back to below $95 billion.Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran, R-Ill. – the key architect of the bill – is unhappy with the veto threat and easily beat back a move by Craig Thomas, R-Wyo., to kill $12 billion in add-ons, such as $4 billion in farm aid, $1.1 billion for Gulf Coast fisheries and the much-criticized Mississippi rail line relocation.Mississippi GOP Gov. Haley Barbour came to Capitol Hill Wednesday to lobby for the rail relocation project. The rail line, owned by CSX Transportation, has been rebuilt with insurance proceeds at a cost of nearly $300 million.Bush insists that total spending in the bill be capped at his $92.2 billion request for Iraq and hurricane relief, though he is willing to accept $2.3 billion in the bill to prevent an outbreak of avian flu.The bill is sure to be carved back in House-Senate negotiations next month, and Bush may very well not have to follow through on his veto promise.Gregg chairs the Appropriations Homeland Security subcommittee. His border security plan focuses on the capital needs of the Border Patrol and the Coast Guard, including new planes, helicopters, ships and communications equipment.Gregg said his plan would “give the people who are defending us on our borders, the border security agents, the Custom agents, the Coast Guard, the tools they need to do their job right – the unmanned vehicles, the cars, the helicopters which are a critical part of our fight in the war on terrorism. It has to be done now.”The underlying bill contains $67.6 billion for Pentagon war operations and $27.1 billion for hurricane relief, including grants to states to build and repair housing and $2.1 billion for levees and flood control projects. The funding for hurricane relief exceeds Bush’s request by $7.4 billion.Vail, Colorado

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