WASHINGTON – The Senate voted Wednesday to divert some of the money President Bush requested for the war in Iraq to instead increase security on the nation’s borders and give the Coast Guard new boats and helicopters.
Senators also ignored a White House veto threat and overwhelmingly voted against cutting a $106.5 billion measure funding Iraq, further hurricane relief for the Gulf Coast and a slew of add-ons opposed by fiscal conservatives and Bush.
And in a nail-biting 49-48 vote that tested lawmakers’ loyalties, senators voted with Mississippi’s powerful GOP delegation to keep alive a controversial $700 million project to relocate a rail line along the Mississippi coast so the state can build a new east-west highway.
The project has become a cause celebre among conservative activists, who say it’s a boondoggle. Lawmakers were clearly torn between voting for it or offending Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran, R-Miss.
On border security, the Senate voted 59-39 for a plan to cut Bush’s Iraq request by $1.9 billion to pay for new aircraft, patrol boats and other vehicles, as well as border checkpoints and a fence along the Mexico border crossing near San Diego.
While the border security funds had broad support, Democrats and Republicans argued over whether the cuts to Pentagon war spending would harm troops in Iraq. The cuts, sought by Judd Gregg, R-N.H., would trim Bush’s request for the war by almost 3 percent, but he doesn’t specify how.
The underlying bill contains $67.6 billion for Pentagon war operations and $27.1 billion for hurricane relief, including grants to states to build and repair housing and $2.1 billion for levees and flood control projects. The funding for hurricane relief exceeds Bush’s request by $7.4 billion.