House votes to delay passport requirement for travel in the Western Hemisphere


The House voted overwhelmingly Friday to delay for 17 months new rules requiring passports for U.S. land and sea travelers entering the United States from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda.

The State Department has been flooded with passport applications since new rules requiring passports for air travelers went into effect in January. The resulting backlog has caused delays of up to three months for passports and ruined or delayed the travel plans of thousands of Americans.

In response, the government has already temporarily waived a passport requirement for air travel, provided people can demonstrate they've applied for a passport.

But the Homeland Security Department is still pressing ahead to require passports of everyone driving across the border into Canada or Mexico beginning in January 2008 &

a rule that some experts believe will lead to a fourfold increase in demand for new passports.

The 379-45 House vote Friday matches a provision included in the Senate's version of a homeland security spending measure, approved by the Appropriations Committee Thursday.

"Nobody can say with the straight face that the federal government is ready for this," said Steve LaTourette, R-Ohio. "My amendment simply asks the DHS to slow down and get it right this time."

The vote came as the House Friday passed a $37.4 billion budget bill for the Department of Homeland Security.

On the underlying homeland security bill GOP leaders employed a concerted whip effort to rally enough votes to uphold a promised veto by President Bush.

The House passed the overall bill by a 268-150 vote. The measure exceeds Bush's request for the department by $2.1 billion, or 6 percent, thus drawing a veto threat from the White House, which vows to keep overall spending passed by Congress this year to limits proposed in his February budget.

But the administration is giving a free pass to a politically sacrosanct bill funding veterans' programs, due for a House vote Friday afternoon, even though that measure exceeds Bush's request by $4 billion, or 7 percent.

The passport application surge is the result of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative that since January has required U.S. citizens to use passports when entering the United States from Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean by air. It is part of a broader package of immigration rules enacted after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

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