In what has become a political ping-pong game, Senate Democrats Thursday rolled out a revised emergency border security spending bill that would be offset by raising fees on foreign companies that abuse the work-visa system used to hire high-skilled employees inside the United States.
With only hours left before the Senate is expected to wrap up work to begin a recess that will last more than a month, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and key aides were working behind the scenes to try to round up Republican support for the bill.
Democrats apparently were preparing a bid to pass the bill by unanimous consent later Thursday, a move certain to put Republicans in a politically difficult position.
The bill, introduced by Schumer and Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., would provide $600 million in emergency funds to beef up security along the nation's borders with Mexico, including hiring more than 1,000 border security and immigration enforcement officers, increasing unmanned drone surveillance operations and deploying forward operating bases.
Senate Democrats previously tried to advance other emergency funding bills, such as one approved by the House last month that provides $701 million in border security spending. But Republicans opposed the efforts, arguing that the funding was not fully offset and would add to the nation's debt.
Indeed, Arizona GOP Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl introduced their own bill that would provide $701 million for border security and be fully offset by using unspent economic stimulus money and $100 million from the so-called virtual fence program.
Democrats have balked at using Recovery Act funds. In an apparent effort to counter Republicans, the bill introduced by Senate Democrats Thursday would be paid for by raising fees on foreign companies that hire more than 50 percent of their U.S. workforce through the H-1B high-skilled visa work program or the L visa program.
"They really use the system in a way it was never intended," Schumer said of those companies. Firms would face a fee increase of about $2,000 for each visa application on foreign workers who constitute more than 50 percent of their workforce, a Democratic aide said.
The aide said the proposal was worked out with business groups and would not affect companies like Microsoft that depend on foreign high-skilled workers.
Schumer said the bill "will be a test" to determine which senators want to secure the border. "If you want to get something done, this is the measure to pass," he said.
Republican reaction was not immediately available. McCain said he had not seen the bill and had not been approached by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., recently to discuss a compromise on border security legislation.