As the clock ticks toward the August recess, House Republicans unveiled a $659 million border-crisis emergency package they hope will pass their chamber this week.
But sliding it through the Senate will be another story.
The GOP package marries funding with policy changes Republicans say are necessary to address the influx of unaccompanied minors fleeing violence and economic disparities in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. But the White House, Senate Democrats, and House Republicans have very different visions of the dollar figure needed to curb what has been called a humanitarian crisis at the border.
House Republicans believe $659 million through Sept. 30 will get the job done. The Senate allocated $2.7 billion for the border in a bill last week, which is $1 billion less than President Obama’s emergency supplemental request.
The House Republican package’s details emerged after a closed-door conference meeting Tuesday morning. The bill will be filed sometime Tuesday, according to House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, meaning that a vote could take place as early as Thursday.
The package is scaled down from the version the conference discussed at its meeting last Wednesday. At that time, Rogers estimated the emergency supplemental funding could be as much as $1.5 billion through the end of the calendar year. That number has now been slashed by more than half because the bill will stipulate that funds must be spent by Sept. 30, which is the end of the fiscal year, according to Rogers.
About two-thirds of the funds, if the bill is passed, would be sent to address border security. This includes increasing the number of detention beds, deploying the National Guard, and adding more temporary judges to speed up children’s cases (some which would be in the form of video conferencing), Rogers told reporters after exiting the GOP conference meeting Tuesday. About one-third of the money would be allocated to the Health and Human Services Department to provide humanitarian assistance.
Decreased funds will help court more votes in the House, Rogers said. The policy side is a trimmed-down version of recommendations that a working group led by Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, gave the conference last week. It will include expedited removal proceedings with more judges, tweaks to a 2008 trafficking law so children from noncontiguous countries are treated the same as those from Mexico and Canada, deployment of the National Guard, and repatriation efforts with Central America’s Northern Triangle, Granger told reporters Tuesday.
The bill appears poised to clear the lower chamber without the assistance of any Democratic votes. With 433 voting members currently in the House, 217 yeas are needed for passage. Republicans hold 234 seats, meaning GOP leaders can lose up to 17 of their members and still approve the measure without aid from across the aisle.
“I actually sense a lot of unanimity around this, and, again, people feel like it’s been done thoughtfully in response to a crisis,” Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., said. “I don’t have any doubts we have the votes.”
No vote is guaranteed in the ever-turbulent House GOP, but in conversations with members following Tuesday morning’s conference meeting, the number of dissenters seemed very small.
“This has an overwhelmingly strong consensus in the conference,” said Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., an archconservative whose support for the border measure speaks to its broad base of support.
A small handful of members are opposed to the bill because it does not deal with Obama’s executive order on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. Without addressing this, those lawmakers warn, Republicans will be ignoring the root of the current crisis at the border.
“The thing that brought this calamity together was the DACA memorandum,” said Rep. John Fleming, R-La. “And that’s not even being addressed here.”
The vote will likely get a ‘nay’ from Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., because of his deep distrust of the president and the package’s price tag.
“I’m not going to support it unless I have assurances that if it comes back from the Senate, we will not consider it unless it will actually address the border issue in a constructive way,” Brooks told reporters Tuesday. “And amnesty and open borders is not a constructive way.”
Still, the vast majority of GOP members Tuesday morning voiced support for the measure, and seemed relieved that the House would act before departing on Thursday for its five-week summer recess.
“It’s what the American people expect, and it’s the right thing to do,” said Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Mich.
Yet, the bill will hold fundamental policy and funding differences from the Senate’s take on an emergency supplemental. And it’s unclear if these distinctions can be hammered out before the August recess slated to begin Thursday.
“Well, the Senate’s not been able to wrestle with much all year long,” Rogers said. “We’ve passed 352 bills and sent over there, and not a single one has come back. So, am I optimistic? I want to be.”
No decision apparently has yet been made on whether some conservatives will be granted their request to vote on a separate resolution, declaring a sense of Congress that Obama already has the funding and executive tools necessary to deal with the crisis.
On the Senate side, Majority Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday that passage of the House measure might give him an opportunity he’s long been seeking.
“If they pass that, maybe it’s an opening for us to have a conference on our comprehensive immigration reform,” Reid said. “They are finally sending us something on immigration. Maybe we could do that.”
House Speaker John Boehner soon fired back, saying in a statement that Reid “is making a deceitful and cynical attempt to derail the House’s common-sense solution. So let me be as clear as I can be with Senator Reid: The House of Representatives will not take up the Senate immigration reform bill or accept it back from the Senate in any fashion.”
This story was updated at 4:15 p.m. to reflect comments from Reid and Boehner.
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