By Peter Cohn
February 28, 2006Senate Budget Chairman Judd Gregg, R-N.H., wants to add $1.1 billion for border security measures to supplemental spending requests for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and hurricane relief.
In an interview Tuesday, Gregg told CongressDaily that despite his appeals, the White House declined to include border protection funds as part of $92.2 billion in supplemental funding the Bush administration is seeking.
"They should have put it in the supplemental, but they didn't," said Gregg, who also is chairman of the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee. "I've asked aggressively that it be put in on our side, and I hope to be successful at any rate."
The Senate Appropriations Committee is planning to take up the requests after the St. Patrick's Day recess. Gregg made a similar bid late last year to add the border security funds to the fiscal 2006 Defense spending bill.
But the provision fell victim to wrangling over oil and gas exploration in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, proceeds of which would have funded border security, low-income heating assistance and other measures. When the Defense bill with the ANWR provision failed to muster 60 votes, the ANWR package was dropped, including Gregg's border protection amendment.
Gregg's plan would fund replacement of Customs and Border Protection vehicles, helicopters and planes, modernization of air fleet hangars, construction of stations and checkpoints, communications upgrades and Spanish and other language training.
But House conservatives are clamoring to offset the entire cost of the White House's supplemental requests and are recommending no unrelated items.
A House Appropriations Committee spokesman declined to specifically address Gregg's proposed $1.1 billion for border security. But he said the panel would have "very strict standards for inclusion of items in the supplemental. There are things in the White House request that won't meet the standard, and some things we might add that weren't in the request ... but everything has to be directly related to the war on terror."
Gregg acknowledged it would be an uphill climb to include the funding in the supplemental, particularly in negotiations with the House. "Well I think it's pretty clear ... I'm going to try to, but the House has been pretty reticent to change anything that the White House didn't send up," he said.
Under President Bush's regular fiscal 2007 budget request, the Homeland Security Department would see a 7 percent increase. But much of that relies on $1.6 billion generated by a proposed increase of the security fee on passenger airline tickets, which has almost no support in Congress.
"They know they're not going to get that fee, they knew it from the get-go, and thus went they sent the language of the bill up in that form they clearly were playing games with national security and national defense, and homeland security in my opinion," Gregg said.
By Peter Cohn
February 28, 2006