Homeland Security spending bill passes without veto-proof majority

The House passed a $37.4 billion fiscal 2008 Homeland Security spending bill Friday on a 268-150 vote in the face of a White House veto threat over its price tag that is $2.1 billion above President Bush's request.

Forty-five Republicans crossed the aisle to support the bill but not enough to override a veto if Bush follows through on his threat.

"I urge the president to back off his veto threat and sign this important bipartisan legislation, which passed so overwhelmingly in the House of Representatives," said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md. Republicans demonstrated that even on the popular Homeland Security measure they have the votes to uphold a veto, which bodes ill for Democratic hopes to increase spending on education, the environment and social services. But Democrats expressed confidence the bill would eventually be signed.

"I think the Republicans who voted with us today, 45 of them, were trying to send the president a message that they get it even if he doesn't, and I would hope that the president would put the green-eyeshade mentality aside and recognize this is the national security of this country we're talking about," added Appropriations Chairman David Obey, D-Wis.

Democrats said Bush should view the bill's increases related to border security in the context of the larger debate over immigration overhaul, which the president has made a top priority. The House bill provides $8.8 billion for customs and border protection, including roughly $1 billion for border fencing and infrastructure and to hire 3,000 additional border agents.

The veto threat brought out a combative tone among Democrats, who said Bush has opposed more homeland security funding. Bush has backed off his threat to veto the $109.2 billion Military Construction-Veterans Affairs measure, which is on the floor, even though it spends $4 billion more than he requested.

But the White House budget office said the money must come out of accounts elsewhere in the budget. The combination drew a sharp rebuke from Obey.

"We're going to spend over $50 billion this year on tax cuts for people making over a million bucks a year, and yet the president says 'Oh, when it comes to veterans you've got to find offsets or you can't give the veterans those increased budgets, and oh, you've got to find offsets if you want to take care of homeland security," Obey said. "I didn't see him running to the offset closet when he decided to go into Iraq and spend a huge amount of money on an unnecessary and outrageously devastating war."

The Military Construction-VA measure was expected to pass by a veto-proof margin, which means it could be the first bill to reach Bush's desk and be signed into law -- and perhaps the only one until Bush and Democratic leaders resolve their spending differences.

Next week the House could consider the Interior, Energy and Water, Legislative Branch and State-Foreign Operations spending bills. The Senate Appropriations Committee, which has passed Homeland Security and Military Construction bills that largely mirror the House versions, will take up the Labor-Health and Human Services, Interior and Legislative Branch measures Thursday. But the Senate will not begin floor consideration of fiscal 08 appropriations bills until July.

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