President Obama and Texas Gov. Rick Perry will meet on Wednesday to talk about the humanitarian emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border, but the real fireworks are likely to be on Capitol Hill, where Democrats and Republicans will begin working on the president’s $3.7 billion funding request for emergency operations to deal with the crisis.
Although leaders of both parties officially reserved judgment when the White House released its proposal Tuesday, rank and file members, as well as senior staffers, indicated that the money will be all but impossible to pass though the current Congress, despite the fact that nearly all are in agreement that the situation for the nearly 100,000 children in custody from California to Texas is nothing short of dire.
Of the $3.7 billion requested, nearly half, $1.8 billion, would be set aside for the Department of Health and Human Services to house and care for the waves of immigrant children already in U.S. custody. Slightly less, $1.4 billion, would go to border security measures like drones, border agents, immigration judges to speed the processing time for asylum hearings, and returning the children to their countries.
In its request, the White House painted a bleak picture of a federal workforce so pressed by the crisis that, without more money from Congress, "Border Patrol agents will have to be re-assigned to child care duties from their border security work."
But major sticking points quickly emerged among lawmakers before the White House even sent its proposal Tuesday morning, including an insistence by many Republicans that the new spending be paid for with cuts elsewhere in the federal budget, an idea that White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest rejected out of hand Tuesday.
“The answer is that this is an emergency supplemental funding request and with an emergency request like this, traditionally, Congress has not sought to bog down that process in the search for offsets,” he said.
Beyond the accounting of the funds, Democrats in the House and Senate preemptively raised the concern that the emergency money not be tied to policy riders, especially any changes to the 2008 law that currently gives extra protections to minor children coming to the Unites States from countries other than Mexico and Canada. Republicans and the White House have pointed to the law as a legal impediment to quickly sending the detained children back to their home countries.
On Tuesday, the White House angered many Democrats by saying that in addition to the funding request, the president is also asking that Congress pass a bill changing portions of that law.
“If they make it a straight funding bill, you could see some success. But if you have the due process of those young unaccompanied kids stripped out, it’s going to become very messy very quickly,” said a senior Democratic aide. “This is a humanitarian and refugee crisis, but the Republicans want it to be about immigration reform.”
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