The U.S. Senate advanced legislation backed by the Obama administration that would provide $2.7 billion in emergency spending to cope with a surge of Central American children at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The measure cleared a procedural hurdle by a 63-33 vote. The House plans to vote tomorrow on a $659 million measure that contains a provision sought by Republicans to speed the return of those children to their native countries. The disagreement between the chambers means Congress probably will leave for its five-week break without agreement on a plan.
“I really do hope we pass this bill; not spending money won’t save money,” Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, said on on the Senate floor following today’s vote. “Let’s get the job done.”
The Senate measure, proposed by Mikulski, is supported by the Obama administration although it would provide funds only through Dec. 31. President Barack Obama requested $3.7 billion in funding through September 2015.
Eleven Senate Republicans, including John Cornyn of Texas and Florida’s Marco Rubio -- an author of a comprehensive immigration overhaul that the Senate passed last year -- voted to advance the measure, while two Democrats opposed it. Republicans who voted in favor of moving the measure forward today probably will oppose the plan in subsequent votes if changes they’re seeking aren’t made.
Both of the Democrats who voted against the measure -- Senators Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Kay Hagan of North Carolina -- are seeking re-election this year in states that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney won in 2012. They’ve been seeking to distance themselves from Obama.
“I think that sending $2.7 billion to the border without some real reforms and accountability is a real mistake,” Landrieu said yesterday in an interview.
A final vote on the measure may occur later this week or could slip until September. Even if both chambers passed their spending bills this week, it could take weeks or months to resolve the differences between the measures.
The Senate bill also includes $225 million for missile-defense aid to Israel and $615 million to fight wildfires in the western U.S., bringing the total to almost $3.6 billion. Democrats bundled wildfire and missile defense money with the border funding in part to attract Republican support for the measure.
About 57,000 unaccompanied children were apprehended at the border from Oct. 1, 2013, through June 15, double the total from the same time a year earlier. Most of the children are from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
Lawmakers have been wary about going home for their August break without passing a border bill. Two federal agencies -- the departments of Health and Human Services and Homeland Security - - may run out of money next month to address the crisis, and it’s unclear how much flexibility there is to shift funds from other accounts.
House Republicans’ border plan would provide about $659 million through September. The measure includes a change to a 2008 law, enacted to protect Central American children from sex trafficking, making it easier to send the children back home.
Cornyn, the second-ranking Senate Republican, said that providing more money without changing the child deportation law wouldn’t solve the crisis.
“As long as this magnet continues to exist, the loophole continues to exist, they will keep coming,” Cornyn said today on the Senate floor.
Democrats oppose such a change, saying the law -- passed with bipartisan support and signed by President George W. Bush - - shouldn’t be changed without more deliberation, including congressional hearings. Other Democrats say Obama has the authority he needs under current law to address the situation.
Obama earlier this month sent a team to the Texas border with Mexico to assess whether National Guard troops can help deal with the influx of undocumented children. Texas Governor Rick Perry, a Republican, announced he would send as many as 1,000 National Guard troops under his control to the border.
The Senate bill is S. 2648. The House measure is H.R. 5230.
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