Senate Border Funding Bill Goes Down

The chamber heads home for recess unable to agree on an immigration measure.

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 22: Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill May 22, 2013 in Washington DC. The news conference was held to provide an update on efforts to eliminate the Veterans Affairs Department claims backlog.
National Journal
Rachel Roubein and Michael Catalini
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Rachel Roubein Michael Catalini
July 31, 2014, 4:15 p.m.

The Sen­ate failed Thursday to write the White House a $3.57 bil­lion check to ad­dress the crisis at the bor­der, West­ern wild­fires, and Is­rael’s mis­sile de­fense sys­tem.

The bill went down on a 50-44 pro­ced­ur­al vote that re­quired 60 votes to carry. The fail­ure and the Sen­ate’s im­pend­ing de­par­ture for Au­gust re­cess, which leaves no time for Con­gress to re­solve le­gis­lat­ive dif­fer­ences, make it ap­pear cer­tain that Pres­id­ent Obama will not see a dime of the sup­ple­ment­al fund­ing for what both sides agree is a crisis of sig­ni­fic­ant pro­por­tions.

Demo­crats cast the bill’s fail­ure as an ur­gent mis­take, and they pre­dicted that without the sup­ple­ment­al fund­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion would have to move money from oth­er gov­ern­ment ac­counts to cov­er the cost of man­aging the bor­der crisis.

“We could have an Ebola crisis “¦ and we’re fool­ing around cut­ting [Health and Hu­man Ser­vices],” said Ap­pro­pri­ations Com­mit­tee Chair­wo­man Bar­bara Mikul­ski of Mary­land. “Fail­ing to act is ir­re­spons­ible.”

The bill went down for a num­ber of reas­ons, in­clud­ing Re­pub­lic­an frus­tra­tion that Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id blocked amend­ments, but also be­cause the GOP wanted to see sig­ni­fic­ant policy changes in the law, in­clud­ing rolling back the pres­id­ent’s 2012 or­der to de­fer leg­al ac­tion against im­mig­rant chil­dren, known as De­ferred Ac­tion for Child­hood Ar­rivals.

“Their bill does noth­ing, zero, to solve the un­der­ly­ing crisis,” Re­pub­lic­an Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said be­fore the vote.

Demo­crats stood adam­antly op­posed to adding any policy changes, and Re­id lost only two Demo­crats, Mary Landrieu of Louisi­ana and Joe Manchin of West Vir­gin­ia, who de­fec­ted to vote with the GOP. Be­hind closed doors, many Demo­crats vis­cer­ally op­posed mak­ing policy changes, ac­cord­ing to Sen­ate Demo­crat­ic aides, but most Demo­crats re­frained from tak­ing to the floor to voice their sup­port.

“Well that’s gonna be hard to come by at this late day, and be­cause it’s a life-and-death situ­ation, I hope that we can deal with it in that con­text,” As­sist­ant Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Dick Durbin said be­fore the vote. “The soon­er we can get a clean sup­ple­ment­al passed the more likely it is that it’ll help.”

While Demo­crat­ic lead­ers failed to de­liv­er Pres­id­ent Obama’s fund­ing re­quest, they suc­ceeded in keep­ing most of their caucus united, which con­tras­ted sharply with the Re­pub­lic­an House, which scuttled a planned vote Thursday af­ter­noon.

The drama in the Sen­ate took the form of Sen. John Mc­Cain of Ari­zona boom­ing against Re­id’s amend­ment pro­hib­i­tion in an off-the-cuff speech shortly be­fore the Sen­ate voted.

“Now we have a hu­man­it­ari­an crisis on our bor­der, a hu­man­it­ari­an crisis of in­cred­ible pro­por­tion, where thou­sands of young people while they’re be­ing trans­por­ted by the coyotes, young wo­men are be­ing raped, they’re fall­ing off trains, ter­rible things are hap­pen­ing. And what are we presen­ted here in the the United States Sen­ate?” Mc­Cain said. “I say shame on you. I say shame on you for not al­low­ing those of us who rep­res­ent the states that are most af­fected by this to have an amend­ment, an amend­ment voted on. That is un­be­liev­able to me.”

By keep­ing Re­pub­lic­ans from of­fer­ing amend­ments, Re­id saves mem­bers of his caucus from tak­ing po­ten­tially risky polit­ic­al votes. At the same time he ali­en­ates Re­pub­lic­ans and in­vites their fury.

Mean­while, in the House the GOP headed in­to a closed-door con­fer­ence meet­ing Thursday af­ter­noon to hash out changes to an emer­gency sup­ple­ment­al and will re­con­vene for an­oth­er private meet­ing Fri­day morn­ing.

A vote will likely be held Fri­day, but it’s one that holds no real weight as the Sen­ate headed home for the Au­gust re­cess Thursday night.

Pro­found dif­fer­ences sep­ar­ate the cham­bers’ emer­gency sup­ple­ment­al pack­ages. The House bill merges policy changes with fund­ing, while the Sen­ate’s sticks to provid­ing money Obama re­ques­ted to help curb the crisis.

The Demo­crat­ic bill amounts to a $1 bil­lion cut to the pres­id­ent’s $3.7 bil­lion re­quest for the bor­der crisis, in which some 60,000 chil­dren have streamed across the U.S. bor­der from Cent­ral Amer­ica.

The meas­ure also provided $615 mil­lion for wild­fires in the West as well as $225 mil­lion for the Is­raeli mis­sile de­fense sys­tem known as Iron Dome.

“The is­sues that I’m ad­voc­at­ing are deeply per­son­al to me and I be­lieve deeply per­son­al to oth­er sen­at­ors,” Mikul­ski said.

The ac­tion came on the Sen­ate’s last day be­fore a five-week re­cess and ahead of a shortened work peri­od be­fore the elec­tion that saw sen­at­ors eager to get back home.

When asked wheth­er there were dis­cus­sions un­der­way to reach a com­prom­ise that could pass Con­gress, Re­pub­lic­an Sen. Or­rin Hatch of Utah paused for a mo­ment.

“The plan is to just get out of here,” he said be­fore the vote. “People just want to get it wrapped up and just get back home.”

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