Senate border security bill stalls

Nogales, Ariz., is a hotspot in the struggle to secure the border with Mexico. Nogales, Ariz., is a hotspot in the struggle to secure the border with Mexico. Defense Department

A House-passed emergency spending bill that would beef up security efforts along the Mexican border has stalled in the Senate, even though Democrats and Republicans both support the funding.

Holding up the bill is a dispute between Republicans who insist that the spending be offset with unused economic stimulus money and Democrats who don't want to jeopardize funding for Recovery Act projects already under way.

Shortly before heading out for its summer recess, the House last week approved the stand-alone supplemental spending bill, which House Democrats crafted to provide $701 million in emergency border security funds.

Among other things, the funding would pay for 1,200 new Border Patrol agents, 500 more Customs and Border Protection officers, three new forward operating bases and two additional Predator unmanned aerial vehicles. The bill included $201 million in offsets, while the rest was unfunded.

Senate Democrats originally tried to add $500 million in border security funding to the emergency spending supplemental for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but Republicans objected and argued that the funding was not offset and would worsen the nation's debt.

Senate Democrats believe they would meet the same resistance if they tried to bring the stand-alone House bill to the floor. "At this point we do not have an indication that Republicans have changed their minds about giving us consent to move the House border security bill," a Senate Democratic aide said.

A Republican aide countered: "My response is that it's ridiculous that Democrat leadership can speak to what Senate Republicans would do.

"There's a genuine desire to approve a border security funding bill," the aide added. "Why must the disagreement always boil down to whether we pay for it now, or shoulder future generations with the tab?"

Arizona Republican Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl introduced a stand-alone border security supplemental spending bill last week that essentially mirrors the House bill but is offset with unused stimulus funding.

"The legislation we introduced ... will provide additional resources to help gain control of our border, without impacting our nation's deficit," they said in a joint statement last week. "It is our hope that Democratic majority will swiftly work with us to ensure passage of this bill."

That effort drew criticism from House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Rep. David Price, D-N.C.

"Since the Senate bill doesn't identify where the Recovery Act cuts would come from, we can only speculate about the worthwhile programs that would have to be scrapped," Price said in a statement Friday. "For example, there are major energy infrastructure investments, transportation projects, and even tactical border communications and border station construction projects that could be put on the chopping block. This reeks of election-year political games."

There were no indications Tuesday that Senate Democratic leaders would allow the McCain-Kyl bill to come to the floor for a vote.

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