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Bush's border fence scam

A proposed 700-mile fence along America's porous border with Mexico could be the quintessential example of the Republican Party being its own worst enemy.

It's almost inconceivable that an issue with such overwhelming public support could have been mishandled so badly by a party that is so badly in need of a winning issue. The GOP brain trust could have answered five simple questions about the fence in 30 seconds. Instead it took the better part of Wednesday to learn the ugly truth.

Thursday morning, President George W. Bush signed into law the Secure Fence Act of 2006. "We have a responsibility to enforce our laws," Mr. Bush said of arresting illegal immigration. "We have a responsibility to secure our borders. We take this responsibility seriously."

How seriously can be answered by how difficult it was to learn:

  • If any money was appropriated for the fence

  • If so, how much

  • The total estimated cost of the fence

  • When construction would start

  • And when it would be completed.

The office of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., sent me an e-mail about a recent column questioning the GOP's commitment to the security fence. Dr. Frist's spokesman encouraged me to call Frist's office the next time I was curious about facts relating to "this important piece of legislation."

When I called and asked the five questions, I was told I would not be given the answers. The spokesman would not say if anyone in Frist's office even knew the answers and suggested I try elsewhere.

An e-mail from Frist's office later said, "I continue to encourage you to contact the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of Management and Budget for information regarding the costs of preparing for, and carrying out, the mandates of the legislation that will be signed into law tomorrow."

A spokesman for the White House's Office of Management and Budget also refused to answer the five simple questions. He suggested I call Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

I suggested he call Mr. Gregg and then call me back. The OMB spokesman said he would attempt to set up a conference call while I was on the line. After being left on hold, I was disconnected. No one called back.

Time to call Homeland Security.

Later Wednesday night, the OMB spokesman sent this: "Sorry I had to jump off. I asked ... DHS to call you and give you detail (sic), as their (sic) the implementing agency for the fence. I understand that you and he talked for 30 mins. Was that helpful• The number for Sen. Gregg's office is: (202) 224-3324. Thx."

The DHS spokesman was genuinely helpful. He explained the importance of the impressive SBInet -- the Secure Border Initiative strategy to control the border using technology and infrastructure that also could incorporate the 700-mile fence.

Then he confirmed my worst suspicions.

No money is appropriated for the fence. DHS does not know the total cost. There is no start date for construction. No one can say when -- or if -- it will be completed.

Believe it or not, Mr. Bush at the signing ceremony mentioned "authorizes" three times in one paragraph about the bill and yet nothing about money -- not one cent -- being appropriated to actually build it.

Seriously.

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