Border Cash Comes With a Side of Pork

Posted: Aug 01, 2007 12:01 AM
Border Cash Comes With a Side of Pork

President Bush issued a veto threat on a pork-laden homeland security spending bill and outraged an anti-illegal immigration group that complained a veto would scuttle $3 billion in border funding.

NumbersUSA sponsored a Spotlight e-mail blast to readers last week, titled "Bush Should Not VETO Border Funding" and said "The White House is threatening to VETO this critically-needed funding boost as too expensive!"

Not so, said White House spokesman Scott Stranzel. In a phone interview he said, "That veto threat was specific to the $2.2 billion in unnecessary spending. The vast majority of that is increased spending on state and local grants which we indicated was not necessary considering the fact there was $5.5 billion in unspent funds from prior years. We thought that spending would add to the backlog of unspent funds and encourage spending on lower priority items."

On June 12, the White House issued a Statement of Administrative Policy that said the House version of the appropriations bill, which exceeded the President's request by $2.1 billion, contained an "irresponsible and excessive level of spending."

It said: "The Administration has asked that Congress demonstrate a path to live within the President's bottom line and cover the excess spending in this bill through reductions elsewhere. Because Congress has failed to demonstrate such a path, if H.R. 2638 were presented to the President, he would veto the bill."

The overall price tag on the Senate bill is $40.6 billion, $5.2 billion more than the President requested in his annual budget.

An amendment to the Senate bill sponsored by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R.-S.C.) and Sen. Mark Pryor (D.-Ark) added an extra $3 billion in spending for funding for border fencing, more Border Patrol Agents and equipment. It passed 89-1. Sen. George Voinovich (R.-Ohio) was the only one to vote against the amendment. In Senate floor speech Voinovich said, "In the simplest terms, the federal government continues to spend more than it brings on, and both the amendment and the underlying bill continue that practice."

"If we decide we absolutely need to spend the $3 billion on something-and I support adequately funding border security-then we need to either raise more revenue or cut other spending to pay for it," Voinovich said.

The overall bill passed with a veto-proof majority 89-4 on July 26. Only four senators, all known as fiscal hawks, voted against the spending bill. They were: Sen. Tom Coburn (R.-Okla.), Sen. Jim DeMint (R.-S.C.), Sen. James Inhofe (R.-Okla.) and Sen. George Voinovich (R.-Ohio).

Taxpayers for Common Sense found 24 earmarks in the Senate version of the bill that will cost taxpayers $394 million, two of which were undisclosed. One of the undisclosed earmarks was for a U.S. Coast Guard operations system in Kearneysville, West Virginia. The other was to migrate Immigration and Custom Enforcement data centers to the Stennis Space Center in southern Mississippi.

There was also $100 million to be spent on national political party conventions tacked on to the bill.

The House version of the appropriations measure did not pass with a two-thirds, veto-proof margin on June 15. 268 members of the House voted for the spending bill, 150 voted against it.

Currently, the bill is in conference to resolve differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. When reached for comment, Republican aides were reluctant to discuss whether or not the final version of the bill should be vetoed or not.

The popular consensus was that the President had a "tough choice" ahead - holding the line on spending might risk losing border cash.

One House aide pointed out that this bill was only the first of 12 spending bills Congress must pass, all of which could be rolled into an expensive omnibus spending bill later this year.

"Maybe the President should keep some veto capital" one aide said.

The House has completed work on nine of those bills, but the Senate has only passed the homeland security spending bill. Each of the spending bills must be reconciled in a conference meeting between the House and Senate before it can be signed by the President.

President Bush has asked Congress that all bills be completed by September 30, which is the date fiscal year 2007 ends and federal money expires for government operations.