The Senate finally decided to listen to their constituents and allocate funds for increased border security and visa tracking today, after an overnight compromise between Democrats and Republicans. The agreement puts the White House in a bind, as President Bush had already threatened to veto the homeland security bill for spending too much money:
Senate Democrats and Republicans came together Thursday to devote an additional $3 billion to gaining control over the U.S.-Mexico border, putting Congress on a path to override President Bush’s promised veto of a $38 billion homeland security funding bill.
The deal resurrects a GOP plan launched Wednesday to pass some of the most popular elements of Bush’s failed immigration bill, including money for additional Border Patrol agents and fencing along the southern border. …
Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, resolved their differences overnight and announced agreement Thursday morning. Cornyn won a promise to have some of the money used to go after immigrants who had entered the United States legally but had overstayed their visas.
Yesterday, an amendment offered by Lindsey Graham on this very basis got rejected by the Democrats as non-germane to the underlying bill on a party-line vote. The Democrats apparently reconsidered overnight, after Harry Reid admitted that he misunderstood the thrust of the amendment. The Senate just voted on this amendment again, and it passed, although several Senators missed the vote and afterwards demanded recognition that they would have voted in its support.
This will put Bush in a tough position. He wanted to veto the bill on the basis of overspending, an action that would help assist the GOP on fiscal responsibility. Now, however, the Republican caucus would likely override a veto to ensure that the border-control funds get approved and the border fence extended. It kicks out a key piece of leverage out from under the White House on a pork-laden bill that probably should get reconsidered.
The amendment does move towards better border security and visa management, even it is just a start on both. It funds more fully the efforts approved in the last Congress, but it does more than that. It gives Congress an opportunity to build trust with the American public by actually securing the borders and plugging the obvious holes in our visa management systems. If Congress can deliver on their promises in those two areas, we can once again revisit the question of what we do with the existing illegals after we’ve blocked entry for any more illegal entries. It could put real reform on the plate for a future session of Congress — assuming that the executive branch follows suit and fulfills the requirements now funded by Congress.
In all likelihood, the administration will probably wait for a more propitious opportunity to utilize a veto. The Democratic Congress will undoubtedly provide more such opportunities on future appropriations bills. Let’s get started on real border security now.
UPDATE: The Graham amendment passed 89-1. The lone holdout? George Voinovich, R-OH. Ten Senators did not vote, including Norm Coleman for obvious reasons, but also presidential contenders John McCain and Barack Obama. Kent Conrad and Ron Wyden were the two Senators who complained that they did not get the opportunity to vote in support of the amendment.
Border security looks a lot more bipartisan than it did two months ago, doesn’t it?