WASHINGTON – Congress worked into early this morning wrapping up work on legislation focused on national defense, Iraq, terrorism and illegal immigration as Republicans pinned their hopes for keeping control of the House and Senate on making national security the theme of the Nov. 7 election.
The House and Senate both worked post-midnight sessions to finish up bills to set defense policy and improve port security. Legislation to build a 700-mile fence along the U.S.-Mexico border cleared the Senate earlier as did a $34.8 billion homeland security budget.
Legislation to convene military trials to prosecute terror suspects cleared its final hurdle in the House after key votes earlier in the week.
Still, plenty of work was left undone: expiring tax cuts, ethics measures and spending bills to fund the domestic side of the budget ledger.
Legislation validating President Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program will have to wait for a postelection lame-duck session colored by election results. So will a bill to open the Outer Continental Shelf to oil and gas rigs.
The House on Friday evening overwhelmingly passed, 412-6, a homeland security spending bill containing $1.2 billion to begin construction of fences and other barriers along the U.S.-Mexican border, plus money for jails to detain illegal immigrants and hire 1,500 more border agents. The Senate cleared the bill late Friday by voice vote.
“The war against terror has been given incalculable support thanks to … legislation to clarify America’s authority to hold and try enemy terrorists,” said House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill. “We have begun the process of securing our national borders and bringing our immigration system back under control.”
Late Friday the Senate cleared by a 80-19 vote a bill authorizing but not paying for fences along one-third of the nearly 2,000-mile border with Mexico. The House passed it two weeks ago and the measure has been on the Senate floor off and on for more than a week as the chamber marked time toward adjournment.
Meanwhile, negotiators finalized a port security bill outlining steps to protect the nation’s 361 ports from what could be catastrophic attacks from chemical, biological or nuclear devices. The bill served as a vehicle to carry legislation to limit Internet gambling. It passed the House 409-2 and a nearly-deserted Senate was poised to clear the bill by voice vote as one of the last items of business.