By Erik Wasson - 06/10/14 08:15 PM EDT
The Senate on Tuesday reached a deal to provide almost $2 billion to cover a huge influx of child immigrants streaming across the Mexico border.
The move comes amid growing concern over a massive increase in young illegal immigrants, with the Obama administration saying that 47,000 children have been caught crossing the border into the U.S. since October 2013.
The spike has left officials with a shortage of funds and space, while photos of overcrowded facilities have sparked concern of a brewing humanitarian crisis.
The Labor, Health and Human Services Committee unveiled a bill Tuesday that includes $1.94 billion in funding to cope with the 92 percent surge.
“This is an urgent humanitarian crisis,” said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa).
Harkin said the $1.94 billion for fiscal 2015 is more than a $1 billion increase over the comparable 2014 level.
As part of the deal, the administration will be required to report to Congress with a specific plan to deal with the surge.
Language in the bill also gives the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) additional powers to shift funds between accounts to cope with the problem.
Under the law, HHS is responsible for feeding and caring for the children after they are apprehended by border security officials. The department bares the biggest share of costs in handling the immigrants.
The Senate package should fully cover the $2.33 billion in new funding, which White House deputy budget director Brian Deese asked the upper chamber for in a May 30 letter.
The funding is paid for by cuts to other Labor Department and HHS programs and a budget maneuver called “CHIMPs,” or changes in mandatory programs. While the use of CHIMPs is sometimes derided as a gimmick, top Republicans on the Appropriations Committee appear to be on board.
The deal was crafted by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), who negotiated with Harkin, Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and ranking member Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.).
Overall the bill provides $157 billion, nearly $1 billion more than the House has allocated for its bill, which is slated to appear in July. The cost difference and debate over ObamaCare will make the Labor and HHS bill the hardest of the 12 annual spending bills to pass by the Oct. 1 deadline to keep the government open.
The legislation passed out of subcommittee on a voice vote and heads to a full committee markup on Thursday. There were no audible objections.
Shelby, though, complained that he would not support the overall bill because it contains $1.8 billion in funding for ObamaCare exchanges.
“I believe we should not provide more and more funding for a program that is clearly unworkable,” he said.
Some Republicans, led by Sens. Jeff Sessions (Ala.) and Chuck Grassley (Iowa), have blamed the spike in immigrants on President Obama’s immigration policies.
They argue the policy of deferring deportation for adults brought to the U.S. when they were young has encouraged parents to try to bring more children across the border now.
The White House on Tuesday said the administration did not believe the surge was related to Obama’s executive order signed in 2012.
“As we’ve made clear ... the deferred action would not apply to these unaccompanied minors,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. “They are going through the immigration process to determine how to return them to their home countries or to otherwise handle their immigration status.”
Administration officials on Monday said that most of the minors had come from Guatemala, El Salvador or Honduras and blamed the violence in those countries as a major reason for the influx.
Changes are also slated to come to the Homeland Security bill, to be unveiled in two weeks, and the State Department bill, the Senate aide said, to further address the problem.
All the costs are to be met within the budget caps set in place by the December budget deal, and none of the allocations for the 12 bills are being rewritten.
A seven-page summary of the Labor and HHS bill provided by the committee does not identify any cuts used to pay for the child immigrant funding.
Instead, the summary identifies more than two dozen areas where funding is kept stable or increased. Highlights include a $606 million increase to National Institutes of Health research funding that completely reverses last year’s sequester cuts and was immediately hailed by advocates.
—This story was posted at 2:15 p.m. and updated at 5:14 p.m. and 8:15 p.m.
Justin Sink contributed.