House GOP scales back border bill in scramble for conservative support

House Republican appropriators are scaling down an emergency funding bill to address the surge of child immigrants crossing the border.

Just three days before the House’s August recess is set to begin, Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) is in the process of drafting limited legislation that would provide less than $1 billion in funds and through only Sept. 30, aides said.

That’s a far cry from the $3.7 billion requested by the White House, and less than half the amount in $2.7 billion bill Senate Democrats have written.

The differences suggest it will be tough to get a final bill to President Obama’s desk and that Republican leaders are more focused on winning approval from House conservatives to ensure a bill is approved by the lower chamber.

As recently as last week, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said the legislation would likely provide about $1.5 billion and last through the end of 2014.

Republicans are making the changes to try to win over conservatives who are reluctant to give the Obama administration any new funding. Most Democrats are expected to oppose the measure.

The last-minute tweaks open what could be a frantic final week on the border bill before lawmakers leave town.

Under House Republicans’ own rules, legislation must be publicly available for at least three calendar days before a floor vote. That means a bill must be released by Tuesday at 11:59 p.m. at the latest for a vote by Thursday, the last day the House is scheduled to be in session.

House GOP leaders could break the rule, but that might spark disapproval from conservatives, who are wary of bringing up a bill to address the surge of unaccompanied child minors crossing the border in the first place. Leadership would likely get heat from members who want sufficient time to review a lengthy appropriations bill.

“I don’t like big bills,” said Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas). “The one thing I’ve learned in my time here in the House is that, when you hear the word ‘comprehensive,’ what it means in a loose translation is, ‘we got some really bad provisions that would never pass, so we need a big, comprehensive law so we can hide the bad laws in it.’ ”

GOP leaders held their cards close to the vest on Monday. A spokesman for Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who takes over as majority leader at the end of the week, said conversations about legislation continued through the weekend. But congressional aides would not offer a timeframe of when the House GOP bill might be released.

While the House bill would be much smaller than what Obama requested, the shortened timeframe could still address the more immediate aspects of the child migrant issue.

The Department of Homeland Security has said it expects Immigration and Customs Enforcement to run out of money in mid-August. It has projected the same for Customs and Border Protection by mid-September.

The House bill would ensure those departments get immediate funding.

Rogers said he will be presenting a plan before the GOP conference at its weekly meeting at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

The chairman said the bill could be released Tuesday for a vote by Thursday.

“I hope we file tomorrow,” Rogers said Monday night. “It’s practically ready to go.”

Rogers said Congress only needed to approve extra funding for the current fiscal year that ends Sept. 30. Funding beyond that date could be part of the regular appropriations process for fiscal 2015.

“Well, we can handle whatever is needed next in the regular bills,” Rogers said. “We really don’t need to do the fiscal year [2015].”

And with Senate Democrats struggling to line up enough support for their competing border proposal, the House GOP has an opportunity to distinguish itself as potentially the lone group to get something done.

But that won’t be easy, given the reluctance some Republicans will have in voting for any border bill.

From the beginning, a conservative bloc of lawmakers has urged leadership to ignore Obama’s funding request and simply pass a resolution underscoring their opinion that the president encouraged children to come to the U.S. with lax immigration policies and that the administration has the power already to address the matter.

Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) introduced a resolution to do just that Friday afternoon. If passed, the nonbinding resolution would express the sense of the House that the president’s immigration policies have effectively “enticed” children to migrate from Central America, under the belief they would be free to stay if they made it over the border.

The resolution only had one co-sponsor as of Monday. If that number grows, it could be an indication that Republicans will have trouble pulling enough support for new funding, even when paired with policy changes to strengthen the border.

Meanwhile, nearly all Democrats have remained resolute in opposing the GOP bill.

Opposition among Democrats to changing a 2008 human trafficking law many Republicans blame for the influx of immigrant children has hardened. While Republicans are confident some Democrats will come around to the bill if it reaches the floor, so far, only a sparse handful of Democrats have said they are even considering supporting it.— This story was posted at 2:14 p.m. and updated at 7:25 p.m. and 8:41 p.m. 

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