The fate of an emergency spending bill aimed at addressing the influx of children across the southern border as well as money for Israel and domestic wildfires looks increasingly uncertain, even as Senate Democrats look to wring some political advantage out of the stalemated issue.
With the Senate preparing to hold a procedural vote Wednesday afternoon on Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski’s $3.57 billion spending request, Senate Republicans are balking at the bill and Majority Leader Harry Reid is taunting House Republicans by suggesting he would add the Gang of Eight’s immigration package if House Speaker John Boehner lets a $659 million measure pass his chamber.
“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.”
The comments are a sign of just how far apart the chambers are and how neither the Republican House nor the Democratic chamber has publicly shown any willingness to reach a deal before leaving town for five weeks on Thursday.
Reid’s suggestion is a nonstarter in the House, with Boehner ruling out putting such a measure on the floor and calling Reid’s tactics “deceitful and cynical.” Reid proposed the idea as a way to force a difficult vote on Senate Republicans, two dozen of whom had voted last year for immigration reform, according to a senior Democratic aide.
Appending that reform bill is a “leading” option under consideration, the aide said.
Reid may want to put Republicans in a tough spot, but he’s also safeguarding the position of the White House, which does not want to see any policy changes.
Other Democratic leaders were less strident than Reid.
“I’m dubious that they can get a bill through right now,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the No. 3 Senate Democrat. “Look, I think Mikulski’s number is the right one.”
Added Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin: “Here’s the reality: I don’t know that the Republicans can pass anything in the House.”
Republican members of the Gang of Eight who helped pass the immigration reform bill last year shot down Reid’s suggestion unreservedly.
“I think that is completely impossible to entertain right now with a crisis,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. “Bad idea. You’ve got to build confidence back in the American people. Show people you can fix this problem.”
But the Senate has its own problems passing anything, which can work to Reid’s advantage. Because 60 votes are typically required to pass legislation, Reid routinely blames Republicans for blocking key bills. In some regard, he’s right.
Minority Whip John Cornyn of Texas, who wrote a bill with Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas, wants to see language included in any emergency funding bill to change the 2008 law that Republicans say caused the influx of children from Central America in the first place. Durbin ruled out the possibility of any amendments on that matter, and Reid shot down the Cornyn-Cuellar bill last week.
“I think the House has been the more responsible body here by coming up with a bipartisan solution, albeit slimming down on the president’s request, and a policy reform that might actually solve the problem,” Cornyn said. “I think it would be good if the Senate would take its cues from the House.”
But there are also some Democrats who oppose the Senate bill. Sen. Mary Landrieu—who faces a tough reelection race in Louisiana—is one. Landrieu is skeptical about giving money to the State Department, which the Senate bill would do, and also raised questions about which federal agency would oversee the effort on the border.
“Harry Reid can decide whether what’s good for the caucus, what’s good for the country,” Landrieu said. “I just think from the perspective of the people I represent, it’s hard to send that much money down to the border when we’ve already sent billions and billions to the border for security without a coordinating entity.”
Still, Democratic leaders are hoping to pass Mikulski’s bill, which includes $2.7 billion for the border crisis—a billion dollars less than what President Obama requested—together with $615 million for wildfires in Western states as well as $225 million for Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense shield.
While lawmakers contest the money for the border crisis, there’s broad support for Israel. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is optimistic that the Senate might shave off the funding for Iron Dome and pass it separately. There’s less eagerness for the wildfire funding, however.
“We’d rather keep them together,” Durbin said. “But a number of people have talked about separating them out.”
Said Reid: “I’m personally committed to making sure we do something with Iron Dome.”
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