Friday, May 19, 2006

Senator Judd Greg: Critical border-security money diverted

Senator: Critical border-security money diverted
By Kathy Kiely, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — A key Republican leader said Wednesday that President Bush is forcing lawmakers to choose between putting National Guard troops on the U.S.-Mexican border and giving the law enforcement officers already there the cars, planes and other equipment they need to do their job.

Delivering an unusual public critique of the administration's border-security priorities, Senate Budget Chairman Judd Gregg, R-N.H., announced that $1.9 billion the Senate approved last month for equipment is being diverted to pay for the deployment of up to 6,000 National Guard troops. Bush announced plans to send the Guard troops to the border in a nationally televised speech Monday.

Gregg, who also chairs a subcommittee in charge of funding border security, said in a Senate floor speech that an effort to repair or replace aging equipment for the Border Patrol and Coast Guard "is essentially dead." He predicted that border agents will be hamstrung.

"A lot are going to be sitting in cars that don't run and planes that don't take off," he told reporters.

White House deputy chief of staff Joel Kaplan said this week that the administration will work with Gregg and other members of Congress to determine how to best allocate the $1.9 billion. "We think, obviously, that we've got a good approach for how to most effectively spend that money to secure the border," Kaplan said.

Gregg's criticisms came as Bush's call for a comprehensive immigration bill continued to win support in the Senate, even as it attracted brickbats from some in the president's own party.

House Judiciary Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., told reporters that he was not impressed by Bush's Oval Office address. "I was very disappointed by the president's speech," he said. "I don't think he gets it."

Sensenbrenner is sponsor of an immigration bill that focuses on border security and stricter penalties for employers who hire illegal immigrants. Bush says he wants a broader approach. The president has called for expanded opportunities for foreigners to work in the USA and legal status for many of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants now in the USA — both key components of the bill now being debated in the Senate.

Gregg said he favors the expanded "guest worker" program, but he took the administration to task for not backing up its promises. "They made these commitments in the budgets they sent up," he said. "What they failed to do was fund these commitments."

Amid much fanfare last month, the Senate approved Gregg's amendment providing $1.9 billion for upgrades to border-security equipment. Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said the 59-39 vote demonstrated that "we are serious about tightening the border, and we will provide the resources, the personnel and capital infrastructure to do just that."

According to an inventory provided by Gregg's office, planes used for border surveillance are more than 40 years old, more than 1,700 border patrol vehicles are not usable, and the only unmanned aerial surveillance vehicle on the Southwest border was lost in a crash last month. Also included in the $1.9 billion was funding for expanding fencing on the border and more Coast Guard patrol boats.

The money was in a $92 billion emergency funding bill now before a House-Senate conference committee. Gregg said he has no hope of finding more funding for border-security equipment. He said other Republicans on the panel told him, "Good luck getting this money."

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