Graham: Border-security measure yanked from defense bill

WASHINGTON — Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-N.C., said Tuesday that Democrats had stripped from a defense spending bill a $3 billion border-security amendment that the Senate passed overwhelmingly last month.

Graham said Democrats also attached conditions to the Iraq war funding, leading all Republican senators on a conference committee to refuse to sign the panel's report.

"I'm incredibly disappointed," Graham said in an interview. "Congress would serve itself well if we funded border security as my amendment proposes, and it would help us move the immigration debate further down the road."

Graham said Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, the senior Republican on the defense appropriations subcommittee, had informed him of the changes.

The Senate voted 95-1 on Oct. 3 to include Graham's border-security measure in a broader bill providing $648 billion to the Pentagon, including $196 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Senate passed the overall defense spending bill by a 92-3 vote later the same day.

The House of Representatives passed its Pentagon appropriations measure on Aug. 4. Both chambers will have to vote on a unified bill produced by the conference committee of senators and representatives.

Among the conditions put on the war funding by conference committee Democrats, Graham said, was a requirement that some of the money be tied to timetables for the Bush administration to change U.S. troops' mission in Iraq.

Democratic lawmakers in the House and Senate have failed to place restraints on war funding this year. President Bush vetoed a supplemental spending bill over such attempts, and congressional Democrats lacked the votes to override his veto.

"These (new) conditions on how to spend the money are a back-door effort to change our strategy in Iraq and deny funding at a time when we're making progress in Iraq," Graham said.

Graham's immigration amendment would fund building 700 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border, erecting more vehicle barriers at urban crossings and installing additional ground sensors.

The measure also would pay for detention centers for immigrants who overstay their visas or commit other crimes. It would provide money for state and local agencies to be trained in helping the federal government enforce immigration laws.

Graham's amendment had been added to a comprehensive immigration bill in June in a failed bid to move the broader measure through the Senate.

Aides to Democratic leaders of the Senate and the House failed Tuesday evening to return phone calls seeking comment on Graham's claims, or said they didn't know anything about the issues. Graham planned to hold a news conference Wednesday with other senators.