House passes $44B Homeland Security spending bill
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON – The House passed a $44 billion spending bill Wednesday that awards the Homeland Security Department a 7 percent budget increase, with money for more border patrol agents and for anti-piracy efforts off the coast of Somalia.
As part of a GOP campaign against President Barack Obama’s order to close the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the bill requires the department to conduct threat assessments for the terrorist suspects being held there. It also requires that the department ensure that detainees are placed on its “no-fly” list and denied an array of immigration benefits, including admission into the United States and refugee status.
Those moves complement steps to block the release of Guantanamo detainees into the United States contained in a newly-enacted war-funding bill.
The House bill passed by a 389-37 vote. It came to the floor amid protests from Republicans, who said Democrats had taken unprecedented steps to close out lawmakers in both parties from being able to offer amendments freely, as is the long-standing custom of the House when debating appropriations bills.
For example, Rep. Harold Rogers of Kentucky, the top Republican on the Appropriations homeland security subcommittee, was frozen out of offering an amendment to end delays in requiring federal contractors to participate in the E-verify program, which uses the Social Security Administration database to root out people working in the U.S. illegally. The underlying bill extends E-verify for two years.
The homeland security measure is the third of 12 annual appropriations bills to pass the House as Democrats try to get the appropriations process back on track. It’s been years since the spending bills have passed as individual measures; instead, much-criticized multibill omnibus spending measures have become the norm.
To meet a deadline of passing the 12 bills through the House before the August recess, Democrats have clamped down on debate time. Just 14 amendments were able to be offered.
In their defense, Democrats said Republican conservatives were intent on disrupting the appropriations schedule, citing delaying tactics last week as Republicans protested their treatment. Republicans say House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, D-Wis., was too quick to seek curbs on GOP rights after debate had just started last week on a bill funding the Commerce and Justice departments.
Meanwhile, across the Capitol, a Senate panel approved its version of the Commerce and Justice bill, a $64.9 billion measure that also fully funds Obama’s request for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
That measure would cut nearly in half funding for a program that helps states with the cost of incarcerating criminal illegal immigrants, though it doesn’t eliminate the program as Obama has requested.
At issue is the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, which would receive $228 million instead of the $400 million provided for the current budget year. House Democrats tried to cut the program back by $100 million, but retreated last week.
Democrats generally have paid little heed to Obama’s proposals to curb spending, announced with fanfare last month.
The House homeland security measure would fund more than 20,000 border patrol agents, about double the number employed before the 2001 terrorist attacks. It also provides $10 billion for the Coast Guard, including $242 million in funding for operations in the Persian Gulf and against pirates off the coast of Somalia.
The House measure also provides $1.1 billion to equip airports with explosives detection systems, almost double current funding.