House Republican leaders proposed giving President Barack Obama less than half of his $3.7 billion emergency request to address an influx of migrant children at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The $1.5 billion draft plan, offered by a group of House Republicans including Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers of Kentucky, is the maximum amount Republicans said they can support and may be reduced further because members of their own party won’t accept more spending.
“That would be too much for me,” Senator Richard Shelby, the top Republican on that chamber’s Appropriations Committee, said of the Rogers proposal.
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House Republicans leaders are calling a special conference tomorrow to try to build a consensus for their bill, said Representative Mike McCaul, a Texas Republican. Support now is “unclear,” he said in an interview.
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio said Congress can act only if Democrats drop their opposition to changing a 2008 law to let border agents more quickly turn children from Central America back from the U.S. border.
“What the president’s asking for is a blank check,” Boehner told reporters. “Without trying to fix the problem, I don’t know how we actually are in position to give the president any more money.”
Many Democrats oppose changing the deportation law, which they say is meant to give children fleeing violence and poverty a chance to make a claim for asylum. Senate Democrats yesterday put forth a plan providing $2.7 billion for spending on the border crisis through December. It doesn’t include a change in the 2008 law.
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.
The dispute over the 2008 law, which Obama initially supported changing, is raising the chances Congress may fail to reach a compromise in the next two weeks before lawmakers are set to leave Washington for an August break.
During today’s party meeting, Boehner was noncommittal on whether he will bring the plan up for a vote, said Representative John Fleming, a Louisiana Republican.
“He himself expressed some doubt it could pass,” Fleming told reporters. “If Republicans move forward on this, we’re now jumping right in the middle of President Obama’s nightmare and making it ours.”
Boehner told reporters, “I do believe that the Congress should act and I’m hopeful that we will.”
Members of the Republican Study Committee, which includes more than 170 House members, met to consider Rogers’s proposal. Afterward some said they favored doing nothing or passing a symbolic resolution blaming Obama for the crisis.
“There are some compelling arguments against taking action,” Representative Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina said.
Fleming suggested a resolution demanding that Obama cancel his 2012 executive order granting deportation deferrals for illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. He said the House shouldn’t risk passing a bill and getting “jammed” by the Senate adding provisions the House can’t support.
Some Republicans reject the plan’s price tag and say the children should be put on one-way flights back to their home countries.
“There’s no way I’ll support” it, said Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama. “To spend billions of dollars on foreign children, money that we don’t have, that we have to borrow to get, that we can’t afford to pay back, is financial insanity when you can solve the problem with as little as $20 to $30 million.”
Asked whether Democrats would support the Republican proposal, second-ranking House Democrat Steny Hoyer of Maryland told reporters, “Right now I would tell them not to expect that.” He said “there is a consensus feeling” that the child deportation law shouldn’t be changed without holding committee hearings.
Texas Democrat Henry Cuellar, who earlier offered a proposal with Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn, said he was open to considering the Republican plan.
The plan “mirrors a lot of what we’ve been saying,” Cuellar said.
In the Senate, Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski said Democrats’ $2.7 billion proposal would fund most of what Obama sought, though only through Dec. 31. Obama asked for funds through Sept. 30, 2015.
“The total amount of the president’s request will be needed,” Mikulski of Maryland said yesterday in a statement. “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.”
Rogers said the House plan, just 35 percent of what Obama sought, allocates far more to border security by putting National Guard troops on the border and speeding up the deportation process. Unlike the Senate measure, the money would be offset with spending cuts elsewhere in the budget.
The Republican plan includes recommendations by a task force led by Representative Kay Granger of Texas, including one to open unprotected border areas, such as U.S. national parks, to Border Patrol agents.
Representative Matt Salmon, an Arizona Republican who is a member of Granger’s group, said he isn’t worried about passage. “By and large support is pretty wide and pretty deep,” he said.
If the two parties can’t overcome their differences, Congress could handle the matter the same way it has addressed other spending disputes -- through a temporary spending fix. Congress has kept the government open for much of the past few years through such temporary bills.
Republicans propose changing the child deportation law to allow Central American children to be voluntarily returned to their home country. Those who don’t voluntarily leave would be given an immigration hearing within a week.
Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, said he met with a group of House Republicans and urged them to press for language preventing the administration from granting “amnesty” to any undocumented children.
“I was encouraging House Republicans to focus on solving the problem, and the only way we can solve the problem is to eliminate any authority for President Obama to grant amnesty,” Cruz said.
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 yesterday.
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