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Congress Opposing Bush on Ports

WASHINGTON – After an election-year repudiation by a GOP-led House committee, President Bush hopes to avoid getting steamrolled in the Senate over a deal allowing a Dubai-owned company to take control of some U.S port operations.

By a 62-2 margin, the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday voted to bar DP World, which is run by the government of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, from holding leases or contracts at U.S. ports.

The ports provision was added to a must-pass measure funding the war in Iraq and providing new hurricane relief.

In the Senate, Democrats moved for a vote as well by trying to attach a measure blocking the deal to legislation designed to overhaul rules governing travel, gifts and their dealings with lobbyists.

Senate Republican leaders were trying to block a vote on the ports deal through a procedural vote that could occur as early as Thursday. That tactic was likely to fail, which could prompt Republicans to temporarily pull the lobbying reform bill from the floor in order to avoid an immediate defeat on the ports measure.

“We believe an overwhelming majority will vote to end the deal,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., whose attempt to force the issue to the floor brought the Senate to a standstill late Wednesday afternoon.

Bush has promised to veto any legislation blocking or delaying DP World from being able to operate U.S. port terminals as part of its takeover of Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Co., a British company that holds contracts at several U.S. ports.

There is widespread public opposition to the deal, and congressional Republicans fear losing its advantage on the issue of national security in this fall’s elections.

Since lawmakers attached the ports language to a must-pass $91 billion measure financing hurricane recovery and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Bush’s veto threats may carry less weight with lawmakers.

The imbroglio over the port operations deal overshadowed the substance of the funding measure for Iraq operations and rebuilding projects on the Gulf Coast.

The underlying $91.1 billion spending bill provides $67.6 billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and $19.1 billion in new money for hurricane relief and rebuilding along the Gulf Coast.

The bill would bring total funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to $117.6 billion for the budget year ending Sept. 30. Total spending on Iraq and Afghanistan since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 would reach almost $400 billion.

The Appropriations Committee plan largely adopts Bush’s requests for the war, the bulk of which would fund operations and maintenance costs, replacement of equipment, and personnel costs.

For hurricane relief, the House measure adopts Bush’s $4.2 billion request but does not dedicate the money exclusively for Louisiana as he requested. The $19.1 billion for hurricane relief would bring total hurricane-related spending to more than $100 million.

The panel approved the underlying measure on a voice vote late Wednesday, and the full House could consider the measure as early as next week.

“This is a national security issue,” Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., (pictured) said of the port operations issue, adding that the legislation would “keep America’s ports in American hands.”

Congressional supporters of the deal “are few and far between,” conceded Sen. John Warner, R-Va., an administration supporter.

GOP Senate leaders hope to delay a quick showdown with Bush on the issue, but the House committee, led by members of Bush’s own party, showed a willingness to defy him on a security issue in an age of terrorism.

“The House is acting a little rashly,” said Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., a critic of the DP World deal that has roiled Capitol Hill over the past few weeks. “This is politics by polls, I guess, and it’s certainly not the best way to operate.”

Only Reps. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., and Jim Moran, D-Va., voted against the measure.

“It is premature, we don’t have enough information and … it may turn out to be unnecessary,” Moran said. Added Kolbe: “I just don’t think this is the right thing to do.”

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said, “We are committed to open and sincere lines of communication and are eager to work with Congress.”

Republicans worked to prevent a vote in the Senate as Majority Leader Bill Frist was said to have warned Treasury Secretary John Snow in a private meeting that “the president’s position will be overrun by Congress” if the administration fails to aggressively and clearly communicate with lawmakers during a 45-day review.

The account was provided by a senior GOP aide who spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was private among Snow, Frist and several GOP committee chairmen. The Treasury Department oversees the multi-agency committee that initially approved the DP World takeover.

 

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