WASHINGTON – Election-season winds are gusting strongly in the Republican-run Senate, which disregarded a White House veto threat and voted to bar President Bush from giving some federal immigration jobs to private workers.
In a victory for Democrats and federal labor unions, the Senate voted 49-47 Wednesday to add the prohibition to a $32 billion measure financing the Homeland Security Department (search) next year.
Five Republicans from states with a significant labor presence joined Democrats in voting for the amendment: Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, Christopher Bond of Missouri and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. Bond and Specter are seeking re-election in November.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the provision's sponsor, said it would prevent Bush from replacing 1,100 immigration officers who screen applications and perform criminal background checks.
"Weeding out potential fraud in our immigration (search) system must remain a responsibility of government employees, especially when the perpetrator of the fraud may be a dangerous criminal or terrorist," Leahy said.
Republicans said the jobs at issue were administrative, and would complicate completion of the Homeland Security measure.
"I would hate to see all our work go for naught" on the underlying legislation, said Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., chief author of the bill.
The White House budget office warned of the veto in a written statement to lawmakers. The amendment would "preclude public-private competition and turn back ... efforts to significantly improve customer service for immigrants," the statement said.
Bush has been trying to replace some federal workers throughout government in an effort that he says will save money.
Approval of the amendment further snarled efforts by GOP leaders to adjourn Congress for the year in October, before the Nov. 2 presidential and congressional elections.
The vote came a day after lawmakers returned from a six-week summer break that included both parties' national conventions. House leaders were talking about recessing for the year Oct. 1, but Senate leaders were aiming for a week later and no one was ruling out an Oct. 15 departure.
Others said a session after the elections looked increasingly likely. A lame duck session (search) could be needed to finish reshaping the government's intelligence apparatus and congressional oversight of it; to provide emergency aid to hurricane-battered Florida and other areas; and to finance almost every federal program in the budget year that starts Oct. 1.
Despite Wednesday's vote, Democrats and Republicans alike say they would like to see the Homeland Security bill finished before the elections.
Democrats said they were motivated partly by their experience in 2002, when many of them opposed a bill creating that department because of a dispute over labor protections. Republicans accused them of not caring enough about protecting the country, and one Democrat -- Sen. Max Cleland of Georgia -- was defeated.
Of the 13 annual spending bills for the coming budget year, only one -- financing the Defense Department -- has become law. The Homeland Security bill would be only the second the Senate has finished, while the House was debating its 11th spending measure.
On Wednesday, House debated a $142.5 billion bill financing next year's health, education and labor programs.
Rep. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., citing a jump in home heating oil costs, won a $22 million increase in funding for the $2.2 billion Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (search) and the $227 million Weatherization Assistance Program (search).
Debate on the bill ended before dinner as Republican leaders hunted for votes to derail a Democratic amendment challenging major changes to the nation's overtime pay rules that the Bush administration implemented last month.