GOP decries loss of border security funds in Defense bill

Lawmakers pledge to explore procedural tactics to restore $3 billion provision that would cover completion of fence, 300 vehicle barriers.

Senate Republicans Wednesday decried the removal of $3 billion for border security from the fiscal 2008 Defense spending bill, with one key lawmaker pledging to use procedural tactics to try to keep the money in the measure. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters he will try to reopen conference negotiations on the Defense bill to restore a provision appropriating $3 billion to beef up border security and crack down on illegal immigration. He said he would look at offering a motion to recommit the bill, or another procedural tactic.

The Senate overwhelmingly approved an amendment from Graham to add the funding into its version of the Defense bill. But House-Senate negotiators removed it in final talks this week. Graham was joined by a half dozen other Senate Republicans in a news conference Wednesday to denounce the move, mostly blaming Democrats for eliminating the funding.

"What happened with this legislation is exactly why Americans don't have confidence in the U.S. Congress," said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. Although the funding is also in the FY08 Homeland Security spending bill, which President Bush has threatened to veto, none of the GOP senators would commit to voting with Democrats to override the likely veto.

Graham said Congress should approve the $3 billion as emergency funding outside of the Homeland Security spending bill to avoid a standoff with Bush.

"If we did this together now, all boats would rise politically," he said.

The extra $3 billion would cover completion of 700 miles of border fencing and 300 miles of vehicle barriers. It also would pay for 23,000 more Border Patrol officers and increase the number of beds available to detain illegal immigrants to 45,000. It would also pay for 105 ground-based radars and surveillance towers along the border, along with four new unmanned aerial vehicles to patrol the U.S.-Mexico border.

Meanwhile, friction has erupted in the House over competing border security bills. On Tuesday, Reps. Heath Shuler, D-N.C., and Brian Bilbray, R-Calif., introduced a bipartisan bill to beef up border security that already has attracted about 100 Democratic and Republican co-sponsors. But Minority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo., immediately criticized the bill, calling it "insufficient." Blunt co-sponsors another border security bill authored by House Homeland Security ranking member Peter King, R-N.Y., and House Judiciary ranking member Lamar Smith, R-Texas.

Blunt said the Shuler-Bilbray bill does not include "language that would deport illegal aliens involved in gangs, require mandatory detention for illegals, assist state and local officials in enforcing the law, and prevent matricular ID cards issued by foreign governments from being accepted as valid U.S. identification."

Blunt added: "Each of these provisions is included in the legislation offered by Reps. Peter King and Lamar Smith earlier this year." Bilbray is a co-sponsor of the King-Smith bill, but his spokesman explained the measure does not have a realistic chance of being approved by Congress precisely because it includes the immigration enforcement provisions identified by Blunt.

The spokesman pointed out the diverse lawmakers who support the Shuler-Bilbray alternative, such as Reps. John Murtha, D-Pa., and Tom Tancredo, R-Colo. "That's not bipartisan; that's bipolar," he said. He also noted that Smith supports the Shuler-Bilbray bill.