October 21, 2009
The Senate gave overwhelming approval Tuesday to a final $42.8 billion fiscal 2010 Homeland Security spending bill after an extended protest by Republicans over the removal of provisions during closed-door conference talks among House and Senate appropriators.
The 79-19 vote sent the bill to President Obama for signing. The House approved the bill last week by a 307-114 margin.
The bill includes language permitting detainees held at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to be brought to the United States for trial.
While that drew considerable attention when the House took up the bill, much of the debate preceding the Senate vote appeared to be orchestrated by several Republican senators who were upset over provisions left out of the conference agreement with the House.
"We're learning there's almost nothing politicians won't do to get out of promises they make in the daylight," said Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., complaining that conferees dropped a provision that would have required the Homeland Security Department to build 700 miles of double-layered reinforced fencing along the southern border.
DeMint reminded senators that a majority of the Senate voted to include the provision in the spending bill.
One of the dropped provisions to draw protests would have permanently reauthorized the E-Verify electronic system employers can use to verify the legal status of their workers. Another would have required employers to take action if the Social Security number provided by a worker did not match records with the Social Security Administration.
"People can have little confidence based on our votes here on the Senate floor," said Sen. David Vitter, R-La. "The conference committee work can be diametrically opposed to it on issue after issue."
But in the end, Vitter voted for the spending bill; DeMint voted against it.
Perhaps the only real surprise was the return of Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., to manage floor debate on the spending bill.
Appearing lucid and relaxed, Byrd defended the decision to remove language from the bill requiring 700 miles of double-layered fencing, calling it "too proscriptive and too costly." The bill includes funding to build a virtual fence along the border and to hire more Border Patrol officers, he said.
"The conference report strongly supports all aspects -- all aspects -- of border security and immigration enforcement," Byrd said.
October 21, 2009