Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg

Trump’s Pitch for Increase in Border Funds Hits Wall in Senate

June 29, 2018 Jack Fitzpatrick
  • Boost would require a deal to protect Dreamers, Graham says
  • Senate Homeland bill has less money than House counterpart

President Donald Trump’s request for more border wall funds faces an uphill battle in the Senate, where even key Republican allies doubt they have the money or the support.

The Senate Homeland Security spending bill already includes a generous amount, $1.6 billion, Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) told reporters yesterday. If the White House wants more, Trump will have to agree to a permanent solution for undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said. Hundreds of thousands of those immigrants are currently protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which Trump has sought to end.

“You can get more but you need to do something on DACA,” said Graham, an appropriator who attended a meeting with Trump on Tuesday to discuss spending bills.

Graham’s comment echoes those by Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), the ranking member on the House Appropriations Committee, who said Democrats might be able to support an increase in border wall funding if the Trump administration agrees to a deal protecting the so-called Dreamers from deportation.

Trump’s request for extra money may exacerbate an already politically charged issue. Detention facilities at the border with Mexico saw an influx of thousands of immigrant children separated from their families after the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy detaining anyone who crosses the border illegally. Trump later signed an executive order directing officials to continue detaining those crossing the border illegally, but to keep parents and children together. House Republicans this week failed to pass a compromise immigration package (H.R. 6136), which would have appropriated $23.4 billion for border security, including nine annual tranches totaling $16.6 billion for a border wall.

Trump asked appropriators at the Tuesday meeting for $5 billion extra for the wall, in addition to the $1.6 billion he requested in his February budget proposal for fiscal 2019, totaling $6.6 billion, Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said.

The White House has yet to send a formal request to lawmakers for the extra funds, and some key members disagree over exactly what Trump wants. Office of Management and Budget spokesman John C. Baker declined to comment on the amount the administration is requesting and whether the OMB would send a revised request.

Senate Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee Chairman Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) said she interpreted Trump’s request differently. It appeared Trump wanted a total of $5 billion in fiscal 2019, which would be $3.4 billion more than the original $1.6 billion request, Capito said in an interview yesterday.

A $3.4 billion increase could be on the table, but a $5 billion increase would be significantly more difficult, Capito said. The lesser boost “could be difficult, but not impossible,” Capito said.

The divide between Capito’s and Cole’s interpretations highlights the confusion around what Trump wants for a border wall. At various times in the last calendar year, lawmakers have said the Trump administration has asked for $1.6 billion, $2.2 billion, $5 billion, $6.6 billion and $25 billion for the border wall.

An increase in border wall funds would be more difficult for senators than House members. The Senate Appropriations Committee has already advanced its Homeland Security spending bill, meaning the change would have to be made by a floor amendment or when the two chambers go to conference to reconcile differences between their bills.

House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee Chairman Kevin Yoder (R-Kansas) said he’s still working on his bill, which hasn’t been released. He said he might be open to a $5 billion increase for border wall funds, but that he would like a formal, detailed request.

Yoder also has more money to work with than Capito. The House allocated $51.4 billion in base discretionary funds for its Homeland Security bill, while the Senate allocated $48.3 billion.

The Bloomberg Government Budget and Appropriations e-brief will resume publication on July 9.

With assistance from Erik Wasson (Bloomberg News)

To contact the reporter on this story: Jack Fitzpatrick in Washington at jfitzpatrick@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Katherine Rizzo at krizzo@bgov.com; Robin Meszoly at rmeszoly@bgov.com; Bennett Roth at broth@bgov.com

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