The bill doesn’t touch President Obama’s “deferred” prosecution of illegal alien minors, or his threats to expand the program to as many as 6 million people, but House Republicans now appear to have firmly concluded they must pass something before they head home to face constituents for a five-week summer break.
“Members are nervous about going home without saying they did something. It’s political cover. At best, it’s messaging legislation. ,” said Rep. John Fleming (R-LA), who described himself as one of a small group of holdouts pushing for more aggressive action. “Even people who are usually pretty hawkish on this have articulated that they’re leaning yes,” he said.
To soften concerns on the right, a group of lawmakers appointed by Speaker John Boehner pared back policy reforms in the bill, including removing much of a border security package authored by House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, according to Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX), the leader of the working group.
And House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers reduced the amount of spending in the package to $659 million, partly by changing the time period for which the bill covers from the rest of calendar 2014 to until the end of the fiscal year, September 30.
The GOP bill spends at a rate of 44 percent of what Obama asked in his initial request, $10.5 million per day rather than the $23.7 million per day that Obama had asked for, although experts said Obama’s request was actually spread out much further than the end of the calendar year.
The spending is “offset” largely by eliminating budgeted funds that had not been spent, according to Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK). “In a budget of $3.4 trillion, finding $700 million to offset is not that difficult,” he said.
Some key conservative lawmakers suggested they may vote yes.
“Those core components, the ’08 tweak, dollars for National Guard, the monuments land – going into those and being able to actually secure the border, and last-in, first-out, expedited process for those individuals who are here, then that’s the direction I think makes sense, that’s actually addressing the problem. But there’s a question about the dollar amount,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, former chairman of the Republican Study Committee.
Cole (R-OK) defended the omission of Obama’s “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” (DACA) program in the bill.
“It was brought up by a couple people, but it’s not part of this bill. There’s room for debate there, but lets keep this bill targeted on this particular crisis. DACA if it has anything to do with this it’s indirectly related, it’s not directly, so. We’re trying to make sure that we can get the votes without overreaching. I think Kay and Hal Rogers hit the right note,” he said.
Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC), who had advocated addressing DACA in a package of bills on the border crisis, said “Based on the principles, I think I can get to a ‘yes,’ but we’re going to reserve the right to give you 100 percent until I actually read the bill. I think it’s important to read the bill.”
Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), who introduced a House companion to Sen. Ted Cruz’s bill to address DACA in a border crisis bill, said she was “looking at” the proposal unveiled at conference. “Kay’s done a phenomenal job,” she added, referring to Granger.
Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA), a Republican aggressively pushing for comprehensive immigration reform, said he wanted to see a broader bill.
“We have a long way to go. There are a lot of things I want to see in the bill. But this is going to be an ongoing issue that’s not going away any time soon. And I’m going to continue to push for full immigration reform,” Denham said.
Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), a top immigration hawk, expressed opposition to the bill. “We will not consider it unless it is actually going to address the border issue in a constructive way, and amnesty and open borders is not a constructive way,” he said.
Granger, the leader of the working group, said that keeping the bill focused only on the border crisis was key in softening opposition on the right.
“I think they understood it better,” she said, explaining the change in tone between when her group released recommendations last week and today. “We’re attacking a crisis with laws that attack that crisis. We’re not trying to do immigration reform or some long-term border security. We’re trying to address this crisis,” she said.
Charlie Spiering contributed reporting.