Stage is being set for congressional border security battle
Key Senate Democrats railed against Republican efforts to add border security funding to the emergency supplemental spending bill Wednesday but apparently will give in to a much more formidable foe -- their own party.
Democrats opposed GOP amendments that would have added more than $2 billion in border security funding to the spending bill, including funds to send 6,000 National Guard troops to the Southwest border and $300 million for state and local law enforcement agencies operating within 100 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border.
They are expected to vote Thursday on the amendments, though, with some modifications.
Across Capitol Hill, House Democrats have already added $500 million for border security efforts to their version of the spending bill. And the White House announced Tuesday that it supports sending an additional 1,200 National Guard troops to the border but also backs the additional $500 million in spending.
This means border security funding will be, at the very least, an issue in House-Senate conference negotiations.
Key Senate Democrats, including Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Senate Judiciary Immigration Subcommittee Chairman Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., have said increased border security efforts must be coupled with passing comprehensive immigration reform that gives an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the country a path to citizenship.
Late Wednesday, however, their offices indicated they will support adding $500 million in border security funding to the supplemental. Democratic aides said there was opposition to the GOP amendments because they would be paid for using money allocated under the stimulus bill last year.
"Democrats support smart and effective border security," a Reid spokesman said. "The amendments on the floor are paid with money that is intended to create American jobs and are designed to score political points."
Schumer also supports the additional $500 million for border security, his spokesman said.
Advocates who favor comprehensive immigration reform have begun expressing anger that congressional Democrats are conceding to more border-security funding in the supplemental without a deal to overhaul the nation's immigration laws.
Some House Democrats acknowledged late Wednesday that they were putting their Senate counterparts in a tough position.
"I would hope we're calling attention in the Senate that securing our borders is a very high priority," said Rep. C.A. (Dutch) Ruppersberger, D-Md. "I think once we get the borders secure I would hope that both sides would want to come to the table."
House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman David Price, D-N.C., disputed the characterization that House Democrats are putting Senate Democrats in a tough bind. He supports comprehensive immigration reform but he said problems along the border call for more funding in the near term.
"We're certainly going to fund border security," he said. "I think it's something in the overall context of the supplemental that should be a priority."
Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., said he views the additional $500 million in border security funding as "a fig leaf" to provide "political cover" to Democrats. "I think it's symbolic. I don't think it has any effect on security," he said.