March 9, 2006 /

Defying Bush, House Panel Votes to Block Port Deal

At long last, but to the dismay of the investors in P&O moves are bieng made to block the ports deal, this is all very well…..BUT, have they decided what to do with the ports yet?..answer..NO, so this will mean the ports will be in ‘business limbo’ for a while, could turn out to be […]

At long last, but to the dismay of the investors in P&O moves are bieng made to block the ports deal, this is all very well…..BUT, have they decided what to do with the ports yet?..answer..NO, so this will mean the ports will be in ‘business limbo’ for a while, could turn out to be messy. I don’t recall any comments form the Unions about this either, this suprises me.

Source: NY Times 

WASHINGTON, March 8 – The House Appropriations Committee defied President Bush this evening, voting overwhelmingly to scuttle a deal giving a Dubai company control of some major seaport operations without awaiting the outcome of a 45-day review of potential security risks.

Representative Jerry Lewis, the California Republican who is chairman of the panel, made good on his threat to keep the port terminal takeover from going forward. He added an amendment blocking the transaction to an essential emergency spending measure that provides money for the war in Iraq and for Hurricane Katrina recovery. “It is my intention to lay the foundation to block the deal,” he said Tuesday.

The vote was 62 to 2, a signal of the deep opposition to the port terminal takeover on both sides of the aisle. The full House of Representatives is expected to vote next week, and based upon today’s tally Mr. Lewis’s measure seems likely to pass in the full chamber. Its prospects in the Senate are less clear, however.

“This is a national security issue, this is a national security bill,” Mr. Lewis said today.

The committee’s ranking Democrat, Representative David R. Obey of Wisconsin, said he regretted that President Bush had not done a better job of explaining the proposed transaction and had not been given enough time. But Mr. Obey said, “When I heard of the transaction, I thought it sounded nuts.”

Mr. Lewis’s effort was endorsed by Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois, who has rarely broken with Mr. Bush, so today’s vote was not exactly a surprise. But it was still a stark example of Congressional Republicans breaking with their president and virtually inviting him to cast the first veto of his White House tenure. The president has vowed to veto any measure that would block the port terminal takeover by the Dubai company.

After a meeting of House Republican leaders on Tuesday, Ron Bonjean, a spokesman for Mr. Hastert, said, “We do not believe the United States should allow a government-owned company to operate American ports.”

The House effort marked a remarkable public breach with the White House after years of working in tandem or quietly settling any differences behind closed doors. It demonstrated that the administration’s effort to dampen opposition by negotiating a new security review and emphasizing Dubai’s strategic value as an asset was failing.

A White House spokeswoman, Dana Perino, said Tuesday that the administration would continue to work with Congress to try to resolve the matter, giving the company, DP World, the right to operate some shipping terminals at Eastern ports.

“There are a lot of conversations that are ongoing between the company and Congress and the administration and Congress,” Ms. Perino said. “The company reached an agreement to ask for a 45-day investigation, and that process is going to get under way. The conversations are going to continue to take place, and we will go forward from there.”

But it was not immediately clear, after today’s committee vote, where such talks would go.

The Appropriations Committee made it more difficult for Mr. Bush to cast a veto by using must-pass legislation that provides about $91 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as hurricane recovery money, to convey members’ unhappiness over the proposed port-terminal takeover. The bill is on a fast track and could reach the House floor next week.

Mr. Lewis acknowledged earlier that the House action would lead to negotiations with the Senate, where some senior Republicans have been more supportive of the deal but others in both parties have strenuously resisted.

The decision by House Republicans to act was infused with election year political calculations. Republican members have been bombarded with protests from constituents alarmed at the proposal, and the agreement for a 45-day review has done little to slow the outpouring.

“This is a very big political problem,” Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the House majority leader, said Tuesday.

“It is pretty clear to me,” Mr. Boehner said, “that the House is going to speak on this sooner rather than later.”

Several Republicans also said they saw little alternative but to act or face the prospect of Democrats’ taking the initiative, potentially cutting into a Republican political advantage on national security issues.

Democrats said they were surprised at how quickly Republicans were moving to separate themselves from Mr. Bush.

“What this shows is that the Republican leadership realized this cannot be swept under the rug and that time, if anything, will make things worse,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, a strong critic of the port proposal. “The only question is, ‘Is the Republican leadership acting with the quiet acquiescence of the White House or over their objections?’ I think it is the former.”

An outright ban on the deal by Congress would go beyond some of the existing legislative proposals that would grant lawmakers the ability to reject the deal after the security review.

But in another sign of deep Republican unrest, Representative Duncan Hunter, the California Republican who is chairman of the Armed Services Committee, proposed a broader bill on Tuesday that would require foreign companies to divest ownership of any domestic facilities deemed critical to national security through a review by the Pentagon and the Homeland Security Department.

In spite of the growing Congressional opposition, the chairman of DP World said Tuesday in a television interview that he still expected the company, which is state-owned, to triumph and take over the terminal operations.

The chairman, Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, said on the CNN program “Situation Room” that he attributed much of the opposition to a misunderstanding. The company would show during the review that it placed great emphasis on security, he said.

“This 45 days that we have volunteered for review is a good chance for all of us, I think,” he said. “And I think by the end of this, they will realize that there is no fear, no worry about security.”

David Stout contributed reporting for this article.

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