House Republicans Unveil Their Border Bill

It looks as if it can pass the House. But the Senate is a totally different story.

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 24: Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) listens as FAA Administrator Michael Huerta testifies before a subcommittee of the House Appropriations committee on Capitol Hill April 24, 2013 in Washington, DC. The subcommittee heard testimony on recent delays in the U.S. aviation industry due to sequestration and also on the topic of FAA oversight.
National Journal
Tim Alberta and Rachel Roubein
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Tim Alberta and Rachel Roubein
July 29, 2014, 7:31 a.m.

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.

Billy House contributed to this article.
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