Senate Democrats cut $1 billion from Obama border fund plan

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WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats are cutting $1 billion from President Barack Obama’s $3.7 billion request to address an influx of Central American children at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The plan would fund most of what Mr. Obama requested, although only through Dec. 31, Senate Appropriations Committee chairwoman Barbara Mikulski said in a statement. The president’s proposal sought funding through Sept. 30, 2015.

“The total amount of the president’s request will be needed,” said Ms. Mikulski, D-Md. “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.”

The plan would include $2.73 billion to house and process the children and send more resources to the border, Ms. Mikulski said. It doesn’t include Republicans’ plan to change a 2008 sex-trafficking law guaranteeing asylum hearings that the GOP believes is needed to speed deportation of the unaccompanied minors.

Ms. Mikulski’s bill also will include $225 million for missile-defense aid to Israel and $615 million to fight wildfires in the western United States, bringing the total to $3.57 billion, said a Senate aide who sought anonymity to describe the proposal.

House Republicans are set to brief members on their own border plan, expected to be less than half of the amount sought by Mr. Obama and to require revision of the 2008 law, which was enacted to protect children from sex trafficking. Republicans say they won’t agree to fresh spending without the change, which many Democrats oppose.

Earlier, lawmakers from both parties said the Republican-led House and Democratic-led Senate probably won’t agree on legislation to cope with the border crisis before their August break because the chambers are committed to opposing plans.

More than 52,000 unaccompanied children were taken into custody 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. Preliminary data show that average daily apprehensions of unaccompanied children by U.S. officials have dropped by about half from June to July, a White House statement said. Obama administration officials on Tuesday held a phone briefing for governors on the border situation, the statement said.

Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Republicans who play leading roles on immigration, said they doubt that there will be border legislation before lawmakers leave Washington in less than two weeks. Though Democrats are searching for a compromise to allow Mr. Obama to expedite deportations without changing the 2008 law, both parties are accusing each other of politicizing the issue.

In a statement Tuesday, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Mr. Obama “backpedaled” on his earlier support for changing the 2008 law to make it easier to deport children from Central America after a quick interview with border agents. Under current law, the children are granted a hearing to determine whether they have a credible claim for asylum. “The lack of leadership from this White House, and President Obama’s refusal to stand up to critics in his own political party, are jeopardizing our ability to find common ground and help the kids who are caught in the middle of this crisis,” Mr. Boehner said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the children are fleeing extreme poverty and violence, and aren’t seeking to take advantage of Mr. Obama’s immigration policies. “All we hear from Republicans in Congress is blame; it’s all President Obama’s fault,” Mr. Reid said. “That is complete and utter nonsense.” He wouldn’t say whether Ms. Mikulski’s plan would get a vote by the end of next week. But Mr. Reid daid say the departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services “will run out of money” in August without congressional action.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said she is reviewing a draft proposal to give the Homeland Security Department more “flexibility” to process the children more quickly without changing the trafficking law. She said such legislation would be considered separately from the spending bill.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that only $25 million of Mr. Obama’s request would be spent in fiscal 2014, which ends Sept. 30. Most of the funds would be spent in fiscal 2015. The CBO report said it assumed enactment of a spending plan in mid- to late September, just before the fiscal year ends. Republicans have seized on the finding to say a special spending measure isn’t necessary, and that the request can be handled as part of the regular spending process.

“No Republican is going to write a check for millions of dollars in aid without changing the underlying legal structure,” Mr. Graham said Tuesday. “If the Democrats insist that everything is fine legally, they will get creamed in the fall” elections, he said.. “At best, you’ll have small amounts of money appropriated,” he said, to address the situation.

A task force led by Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, is set today to recommend sending National Guard agents to the U.S.-Mexico border and adding judges to immigration courts to speed deportations of the unaccompanied minors. The group also will propose opening unprotected border areas, such as U.S. national parks, to Border Patrol agents. New spending would be offset by spending cuts elsewhere in the budget, an idea that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has called “problematic.”


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