Dissenting Vote on Border Funds Sought in House

South Texas Border Patrol vehicle covers tracks that could help illegal immigrants find their way. South Texas Border Patrol vehicle covers tracks that could help illegal immigrants find their way. Donna Burton/Customs and Border Protection

As a prerequisite to any House action on emergency funding for the border crisis, some House conservatives are pushing for a vote this week on a resolution declaring that President Obama already has "the necessary tools at his disposal" to address the flood of undocumented minors arriving from Central America.

The effort represents clear evidence of continued resistance within the Republican Conference toward approving any portion of Obama's request for $3.7 billion to deal with the surge of immigrants. Such a vote would enable these lawmakers to put on the record their reasons for believing the administration does not need supplemental appropriations.

Whether it would also provide political cover for them if they then turned around and voted to provide even a smaller amount is doubtful. There appears to be no guarantee of GOP unanimity behind a bill allowing increased spending, even if Speaker John Boehner permits a vote on a resolution of dissent.

The Republican maneuvering continues as the House is scheduled to adjourn on Thursday for all of August and into early September. As a result, time is running out for Boehner to decide whether to try to pass a bill before the break in response to Obama's request, whether it would be an effort realistically designed to get through both chambers, and whether he will need to rely on Democratic votes to do so.

Republican leaders on Monday night were finalizing language on the bill, to be presented to House Republicans in a closed-door conference on Tuesday morning. But rather than providing funding through the end of this calendar year—as was under consideration last week—Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers said Monday that this version would require the money provided to be used by Sept. 30.

He would not identify the precise amount of funding in the plan, other than to say it would be under $1 billion and would be offset by spending cuts elsewhere in the federal budget. Some sources have indicated it will be much less than $1 billion.

Regardless, it is expected to be significantly less than the Democratic-led Senate's $2.7 billion plan—which the White House said on Monday the administration supports—and would be a greatly scaled back version of the president's initial $3.7 billion request. That might not be a problem for the administration: The Congressional Budget Office has projected that even under Obama's proposal, just $25 million would actually be spent through September.

"I think this bill is a fair, even-handed, sufficient approach to solve the problem. What the Senate does, we'll have to wait and see," said Rogers, adding he was optimistic it could pass the House.

Against this backdrop, some fiscal conservatives who have opposed any more spending did not appear to be backing off Monday on their insistence that they be able to make their case on the House floor. That was underscored in efforts to get a vote on a resolution authored by Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., and sent Monday to House leaders. A copy was obtained by National Journal.

That wording declares that, "Whereas the President currently has the necessary tools at his disposal to solve the humanitarian crisis at the border with existing funding from Congress," that "Now, therefore be it resolved: That the House of Representatives agrees with the President that there is an actual humanitarian crisis on the border that only underscores the need to drop the politics and fix our immigration system once and for all."

The resolution further calls on the president "to use the resources already at his disposal to gain certifiable control of the border."

Among the courses of action recommended in the resolution would be for the president to "cease releasing convicted criminal aliens from detention," begin "cracking down on fraudulent asylum claims," and be "giving Border Patrol agents access to federal lands where drug traffickers, human smugglers, and unlawful migrants hide."

In addition, the resolution accuses the Obama administration of having sent "a broad signal to unlawful immigrants that, once they enter the United States, they can remain here in violation of the law without consequence." It demands that Obama instead "send a clear message that those who are seeking to enter the United States illegally will be returned to their home countries."

The resolution says the House stands ready to work with the president so that these "calls to action are realized as expeditiously as possible."

Franks declined to comment on his resolution. But a senior GOP aide said the resolution has a clear purpose: "It should be a matter of record that even without any additional funding, Obama has the necessary tools to begin stemming the flow of unlawful migrants."

The aide added that many Republicans expressed their support for such a vote in meetings last week of both the Republican Study Committee and the entire House Republican Conference.

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