WASHINGTON,(Reuters) – Defying President George W. Bush, Republicans in the House of Representatives on Tuesday moved to block plans by a state-owned Arab company to manage six U.S. ports by attaching an amendment to must-pass spending legislation for the Iraq war and hurricane relief.
House Republican leaders backed a plan by Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis to push an amendment aimed at stopping the Dubai ports deal the administration had approved, said Ron Bonjean, spokesman for House Speaker Dennis Hastert, an Illinois Republican.
“We do not believe the U.S. should allow a state-owned company to run American ports,” Bonjean said.
Lewis told reporters the port security legislation was still being drafted in the House and work remains with the Senate. But he added, “It is my intention to lay the foundation to block the deal.”
The House Appropriations Committee is expected to debate the ports amendment, along with the broader spending bill, on Wednesday.
Lewis, a California Republican, said his amendment to the emergency spending bill for the Iraq war and hurricane rebuilding would not mandate that only American citizens be involved in running U.S. ports.
He said “the language is designed to deal specifically with the concerns that flow around the United Emirates question.” But he also said the measure “could be interpreted to be broader than just a single country.”
Bush has threatened to veto legislation that attempts to block the $6.85 billion deal under which Dubai Ports World took over the global assets of Britain-based P&O which would give the state-owned Arab company control over managing some facilities at six major U.S. ports.
While congressional Republicans were still hoping to work out a deal with the Bush administration, Lewis warned, “We could have a confrontation” with the White House.
News of the deal the administration had quietly approved unleashed a political firestorm, with opponents charging it posed a potential security threat.
The administration agreed to an additional 45-day review of the deal, but Bush has said security concerns were unwarranted. He said security at the ports would remain in U.S. control, and that Dubai, a member of the United Arab Emirates, has been a strong ally in his war against terrorism.
Spending bills often become targets for unrelated amendments that cut off funds for projects that are undesirable in the eyes of some lawmakers.
“I have heard from many of my constituents who have strong concerns about the possibility of foreign-owned companies managing U.S. ports. I have also heard from many of the members of my committee who have similar concerns,” Lewis said.
House Majority Leader John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, called the ports deal “a very big political problem. I have seen it in my district. I have seen it every place I have been.”
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter, another California Republican, also announced he was introducing a bill that similarly would forbid foreign companies from owning, operating or managing the U.S. ports like those involved in the Dubai Ports World deal.
Hunter said his bill was designed to ensure that all key “national defense critical infrastructure” would be controlled by Americans.
Hunter said it would be up to the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security to decide what facilities fall under that category.