WASHINGTON – Republicans blocked a Democratic effort Wednesday to force House votes on expanding government scrutiny of foreign investments, the latest fallout from a Dubai-owned company's failed bid to run some U.S. port operations.
In a 224-192 procedural vote, the Republican-controlled House thwarted Democrats from offering two amendments to a $91 billion measure for wars and hurricane recovery. Democrats also planned to push for more port security money while criticizing Republicans on the issue.
"If the Republicans are now deciding to get on board, then we welcome them, because for so long they have been on a sinking ship, basically saying that our ports are secure," said Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, lead Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee.
Republicans dismissed the criticism, arguing that they have increased port security money over the last few years beyond what the Bush administration has requested.
"What you saw was as much money as we could spend without just throwing money at the problem, hoping something good would happen," said House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, suggesting that's the Democrats' approach.
In both the House and Senate, Democrats have long pushed for more money for ports only to have the Republican-controlled Congress reject their efforts, largely along party lines.
House Democrats are making another attempt this week now that the issue is fresh in lawmakers' minds because of the DP World deal.
They are expected to try to attach legislation boosting money for cargo inspections and other security measures at U.S. ports to the $91 billion bill that pays for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and rebuilding efforts in the Hurricane Katrina-battered Gulf Coast.
By its procedural vote Wednesday, the House prevented Rep. Martin Sabo, D-Minn., from offering an amendment that would require an intensive national security review for all transactions that could result in foreign control of any person engaged in interstate commerce. Currently, a multi-agency government panel decides whether applications for foreign investments deserve increased scrutiny, and few do.
Republicans also turned back a Democratic effort to offer an amendment to create a special committee to investigate how money for wars and hurricane recovery has been spent.
The bill already contains a provision that would block DP World from managing port terminals in the United States even though the Dubai-owned company has promised to surrender its U.S. port operations.
Republicans planned a vote sometime this week to put the full House on record objecting to DP World's entry into American port operations.
"Congress wants to make it clear that we think that this should not happen and we want to ensure that it won't happen," Boehner said. "The House will vote this week to make it clear that it is dead."
A House committee last week voted 62-2 against DP World's plan.
But the committee rejected several Democratic amendments, including a wide-ranging provision that would have added $3.4 billion for port security. That's among the amendments Democrats are expected to push as early as Wednesday.
For weeks, debate over port security has overshadowed the bulk of the spending measure, which provides $67.6 billion to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and $19.1 billion in new money for hurricane relief and rebuilding along the Gulf Coast.
That would bring total spending on Iraq and Afghanistan since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to nearly $400 billion and total hurricane-related spending to more than $100 billion.
Meanwhile, DP World announced that it plans to sell all its U.S. port operations within four to six months to an unrelated American buyer and laid out new details about how it plans to pursue the sale under pressure from Congress.
DP World said that until the sale is finalized, its U.S. businesses will be operated independently.