Senate Democrats Cut $1 Billion From Obama Border Funds

Senate Democrats are cutting $1 billion from President Barack Obama’s $3.7 billion request to address an influx of Central American children at the U.S.- Mexico border.

The plan would fund most of what Obama requested, although only through Dec. 31, Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski said in a statement. The president’s proposal sought funding through Sept. 30, 2015.

“The total amount of the president’s request will be needed,” said Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat. “However, based on a review of what is needed in calendar year 2014 to meet needs at the border, the bill reduces the president’s request by $1 billion.”

The plan would include $2.73 billion to house and process the children and send more resources to the border, Mikulski said. It doesn’t include Republicans’ plan to change a 2008 law to speed the deportation of unaccompanied minors.

Mikulski’s bill also will include $225 million for missile-defense aid to Israel and $615 million to fight wildfires in the western U.S., bringing the total to $3.57 billion, said a Senate aide who sought anonymity to describe the proposal.

House Republicans

House Republicans are set to brief members on their plan, expected to be less than half of the amount sought by Obama and to require revision of the 2008 law, which was enacted to protect children from sex trafficking. Republicans say they won’t agree to fresh spending without the change, which many Democrats oppose.

Earlier, lawmakers from both parties said the Republican-led House and Democratic-led Senate probably won’t agree on legislation to cope with the border crisis before their August break because the chambers are committed to opposing plans.

“It looks like we’re on track to do absolutely nothing, which to me is the definition of political malpractice,” Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the chamber’s second-ranking Republican, told reporters today.

52,000 Children

More than 52,000 unaccompanied children were apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border from Oct. 1 through June 15, about double the total in a similar period a year earlier, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Most of the children came from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

Preliminary data show that average daily apprehensions of unaccompanied children by U.S. officials have dropped by about half from June to July, according to a White House statement. Obama administration officials held a telephone briefing today for governors on the border situation, according to the statement.

Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Republicans who play leading roles on immigration, said they doubt there will be border legislation before lawmakers leave Washington in less than two weeks.

Though Democrats are searching for a compromise to allow Obama to expedite deportations without changing the 2008 law, both parties are accusing each other of politicizing the issue.

Obama ‘Backpedaled’

In a statement today, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio said Obama “backpedaled” on his earlier support for changing the 2008 law to make it easier to deport children from Central America after a quick interview with border agents. Under current law, the children are granted a hearing to determine whether they have a credible claim for asylum.

“The lack of leadership from this White House, and President Obama’s refusal to stand up to critics in his own political party, are jeopardizing our ability to find common ground and help the kids who are caught in the middle of this crisis,” said Boehner, an Ohio Republican.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said the children are fleeing extreme poverty and violence, and aren’t seeking to take advantage of Obama’s immigration policies.

“All we hear from Republicans in Congress is blame; it’s all President Obama’s fault,” Reid said. “That is complete and utter nonsense.” He wouldn’t say if Mikulski’s plan would get a vote by the end of next week.

Homeland Security

Reid said the Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services “will run out of money” in August without congressional action.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, said she is reviewing a draft proposal to give the Department of Homeland Security more “flexibility” to process the children more quickly without changing the law. Such legislation would be considered separately from the spending bill, she said.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that only $25 million of Obama’s request would be spent in fiscal 2014, which ends Sept. 30. Most of the funds would be spent in fiscal 2015. CBO’s report said it assumed enactment of a spending plan in middle to late September, just before the fiscal year ends.

Republicans have seized on the finding to say a special spending measure isn’t necessary and that the request can be handled as part of the regular spending process.

The result, lawmakers say, is that Congress probably will handle the matter the same way it’s handled other spending disputes -- through a temporary spending fix. Congress has kept the government open for much of the past few years through temporary spending bills.

Legal Structure

“No Republican is going to write a check for millions of dollars in aid without changing the underlying legal structure,” Graham said today.

“If the Democrats insist that everything is fine legally,” Graham said, “they will get creamed in the fall” elections. “At best you’ll have small amounts of money appropriated” to address the situation, he said.

Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu, a Democrat, said, “It’s hard to see a consensus building given the diverging views.”

A task force led by Texas Republican Representative Kay Granger of Texas is set tomorrow to recommend sending National Guard agents to the U.S.-Mexico border and adding judges to immigration courts to speed the deportation of unaccompanied minors. The group also will propose opening unprotected border areas, such as U.S. national parks, to Border Patrol agents.

New spending would be offset by spending cuts elsewhere in the budget, an idea House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, has called “problematic.”

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