Senate Vote Gives Defense Bill Extra $3 Billion For Border Security

In a move to save President Bush from an embarrassing veto override, Senate Republicans on Wednesday again won $3 billion to try to gain control over the U.S. border with Mexico.

The funding was added by a 95-1 vote to a bill appropriating $459 billion for the Pentagon. It had already been adopted in July as part of a spending bill financing the Department of Homeland Security, but Bush has promised to veto that bill.

The border security spending, especially money to construct 700 miles of fencing to keep illegal immigrants from Mexico from crossing into the United States, is so popular among Republicans that they would vote to override Bush's homeland security veto if necessary.

Such a loss would be a major embarrassment as Bush battles with Congress over the 12 appropriations bills funding the government for the budget year that began on Monday.

Bush vowed to veto the homeland security bill because it exceeds his budget by more than $2 billion.

GOP leaders now hope rank-and-file Republicans could support a veto of the homeland security bill since the funding is also attached to the defense measure, which Bush supports. House GOP leaders asked Senate Republicans to embrace the unusual move, acknowledged Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, a budget hawk, was the single "nay" vote against adding the border money to the Pentagon bill.

The border security funding had been included in Bush's broader immigration reform bill that collapsed in June.

The money approved Wednesday would go toward seizing "operational control" over the U.S.-Mexico border by using additional Border Patrol agents, vehicle barriers, border fencing and observation towers. It would also be used to pursue immigrants who had entered the United States legally but overstayed their visas.

"This $3 billion will accomplish that and will help fully fund an operationally secure border," said Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H. "That is the first step to effective immigration reform, having a border that we know is secure."

The underlying defense bill awards the Pentagon a 10 percent budget increase of $43 billion. It does not include Bush's almost $190 billion request for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan for the 2008 budget year.

Democrats touted funding increases for National Guard equipment, military health care and a 3.5 percent pay increase for military personnel, half a percentage point more than requested by Bush.

The measure also mostly grants Bush's almost $100 billion request to purchase new weapons such as V-22 tilt rotor aircraft, unmanned drone aircraft, next generation Joint Strike Fighters and the F-22 Raptor fighter jet, which has been beset by cost overruns.

Democrats have shown little inclination to curb spending on major weapons systems despite criticism that many of them are designed to cope with past enemies rather than those U.S. troops have actually been fighting.

The overall budget for procurement is $17 billion higher than last year and promises to continue to grow. The Pentagon's overall budget, even adjusted for inflation, is more than 20 percent higher than the average Cold War budget and has gone up more than 40 percent since Sept. 11, 2001.