Dems to chop Obama’s border request

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Senate Democrats will chop $1 billion from President Obama’s emergency spending request to secure the Texas border but have rejected Republican demands to change legal protections for child immigrants from Central America.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) told colleagues Tuesday that she will move a bill with $2.7 billion in emergency spending for the border, substantially less than the $3.7 billion requested by Obama, according to Democratic sources.

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The legislation will not include language demanded by Republicans and some centrist Democrats giving the administration more flexibility to swiftly deport children from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and other noncontiguous countries, the Democrats said.

Mikulski will attach $615 million in emergency funding to combat wildfires and $225 million for Israel’s Iron Dome rocket defense system, according to one Democratic source familiar with the bill.

Cutting the size of Obama’s request down is a nod to Republicans who have questioned the need for the money, but may not be the answer to getting a bill done before Congress adjourns for its August recess next week.

Republicans have been adamant that changes must be made to a 2008 human trafficking law blamed in part for a surge of child immigrants at the border, but liberal Democrats are holding firm against those demands.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he hoped Congress would not leave for the five-week August recess next Thursday without passing a bill providing the administration with emergency funds. He noted the administration projects the Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agencies will run out of funding within the next two months.

A senior Democratic aide said Mikulski is expected to unveil her bill this week and a vote will take place next week.

Obama’s $3.7 billion ask suffered a political blow Monday when the Congressional Budget Office reported that only $25 million would be spent in fiscal year 2014, which ends Sept. 30.

The budget office projected only $25 million would be needed by the Department of Health and Human Services next month and $3.4 billion would be spent in 2015 with the remainder needed over the next five years.

Mikulski, in a statement released Monday evening, confirmed she cut the president’s request, explaining the full amount could be appropriated at a later date.

“The total amount of the president’s request will be needed. 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,” she said.

While most of the opposition to the size of Obama’s request has come from Republicans, centrist Democrats facing tough reelections also have expressed concern about how the administration would spend the emergency funds.

“There’s discussion about whether the president’s request for $3.7 billion should be altered,” said Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), a vulnerable incumbent, earlier in the day. “My view of this is there needs to be accountability with that money so I want to know specifics on what it’s going to be spent on. I want to be able to measure that and know that the American taxpayers are getting bang for their buck.”

Republicans and some Democrats have blamed the surge of migrants across the Texas border on special legal protections granted to children from Central America under a 2008 human trafficking law. Republicans have called for amending that law and centrist Democrats have expressed interest in doing so.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Tuesday that the public would not support increased funding for the border without policy changes, especially tweaks to the 2008 law. He said Democrats were “jeopardizing” the chances of passing a funding bill, and called on the administration to take on Democrats critical of changing it.

“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,” he said in a statement.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who helped write the 2008 law, said she would move separate legislation to give the administration more flexibility to process unaccompanied minors and return them to their home countries.

She said when she helped draft the law six years ago there were a total of only 5,000 children a year coming to the United States. The Department of Homeland Security estimates that by the end of September, as many as 90,000 may be apprehended at the Texas border this year.

“That changes the dynamic very substantially,” she said.

Despite her efforts, Senate Democrats may not move any separate legislation overhauling the legal process for immigrants from Central America because of opposition from powerful senior members.

“I don’t know if there’s going to be any language in separate standing legislation, but my understanding is there’ll be none in the supplemental,” said Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), an outspoken advocate for immigrants and their families.

Senate and House Republicans have insisted on combining policy changes with the emergency spending bill.

They argue the lengthy legal process for immigrants from Central America costs the administration much more than the relatively short one for immigrants from Mexico.

Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn (Texas) and Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar (Texas) have proposed legislation that would treat unaccompanied minors from Mexico, Central America and other countries the same.

Cristina Marcos contributed. 

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