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Congress Moves on Final Legislation Before Adjourning

September 29, 2006 at 6:30 PM EDT

KWAME HOLMAN: The Senate got off to a promising start this
morning, taking care of the easy business first.

I ask for the yeas and nays.

KWAME HOLMAN: It gave unanimous approval to a $448 billion
defense spending bill that includes $70 billion more for continued military
operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

SEN. TED STEVENS: This is the largest bill we’ve ever
provided for the Department of Defense.

KWAME HOLMAN: But the defense and homeland security bills are
the only spending bills the Senate has completed work on this year. Ten others
had to be wrapped into a continuing resolution, which funds government agencies
at current levels until Congress can act on each bill individually. That drew a
scolding from West Virginia’s
Robert Byrd, senior Democrat on the Appropriations Committee.

Virginia: When it comes to the education of our
children, when it comes to the health of the elderly, when it comes to the
ability of our deteriorating infrastructure to sustain a growing economy, and
the fiscal health of our farms, the majority of the leadership wants no debate.
No debate. No debate.

A last day without a schedule

KWAME HOLMAN: In fact, there was no debate for the remainderof the morning. Senators were free to speak on any issue they chose, whileleaders tried to reach agreement on the legislative schedule ahead.

SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), Senate Majority Leader: What we'redoing, just for the information of our colleagues, is to lay out just morningbusiness -- and we might even be able to extend morning business -- until theDemocratic leader and I plan out the remainder of the day.

KWAME HOLMAN: Members of both houses of Congress had hopedto complete work and head home within 24 hours, most to campaign forre-election and not have to return to the Capitol until after Election DayNovember 7th. But by 1:00, the Senate still had no schedule for its legislativeday, and senators were free to keep talking.

SEN. LARRY CRAIG (R), Idaho:For the sake of the senator and our timing, let me ask unanimous consent thatthe period of morning business be extended until 2:00 or 3:30.

KWAME HOLMAN: PennsylvaniaRepublican Rick Santorum used his free time to preview a debate he hoped wouldbegin later in the day: legislation to build 700 miles of reinforced fencingalong populated areas of the U.S.-Mexico border. A virtual fence usingsurveillance cameras, ground sensors, and unmanned aerial vehicles would secureother areas of the border.

SEN. RICK SANTORUM (R), Pennsylvania: If you have a problem of 11million people and growing of people in this country who will here illegally,the first thing we should do is stop the growth.

KWAME HOLMAN: But California Democrat Barbara Boxercomplained that Senate Republicans could not convince their House counterpartsto accept the comprehensive approach to immigration reform the president calledfor, which includes a guest-worker program.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), California: I don't oppose building a fencewhere you need to do it, where the border is porous. I just don't have aproblem with that. What I have a problem with is this narrow approach to theimmigration issue which precludes us from truly fixing our problems.

SPEAKER: The chair will receive a message.

MADAM SECRETARY: Mr. Speaker, a message from the Senate.


MADAM SECRETARY: Madam Secretary?

Rearguing the tribunals bill

KWAME HOLMAN: Meanwhile, the defense bill the Senate passedthis morning was sent to the House, where overwhelming approval was almostguaranteed. And the nearly $35 billion homeland security spending bill wasapproved, as well.

As for the military tribunals bill approved by the House onWednesday and the Senate Thursday, it was brought back to the House forapproval of a technical change this afternoon. But members used that as anopportunity to reargue the merits and shortfalls of the bill.

REP. DAN LUNGREN (R), California:We're dealing with, as the bill says, alien, unlawful enemy combatants. Thosepeople are not in uniform. Those people are not following the rules ofinternational law, with respect to war. Those people hide behind women and children.

REP. JERROLD NADLER (D), New York: When someone is accused of rape ormurder, you don't string them up. You first give them a trial, then string themup. And what they are saying, what this bill says, is the president or hisdesignee can designate someone as an unlawful enemy combatant with no trial, nohearing, no status review, no nothing, throw them in jail forever.

KWAME HOLMAN: Later at a meeting of Republican leaders only,the necessary signatures were added to the military tribunals bill to clear itsdelivery to the president. Still, members of both houses were anticipating thislast day of legislating before the elections to last well into the evening andbeyond.

SEN. BILL FRIST: OK, that's it, Mr. Speaker.

KWAME HOLMAN: But there also was evidence some members ofCongress weren't in too much of a rush to leave.