WASHINGTON ― Republicans in Congress are suddenly hunting around for $12 billion to $15 billion to pay for President Donald Trump’s border wall, but he would have had most of the money already if House Republicans hadn’t blocked a 2013 bill that would have spent even more.
The measure was the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed on a bipartisan vote of 68 to 32. It included $46.3 billion for border security, including $8 billion for 700 miles of fence, $4.5 billion for surveillance technology and implementation, and the possibility of $2 billion more if the initial flood of cash was not enough.
It would have been the largest border splurge in history, with an additional 19,200 agents getting hired for the southern border to go along with all the walls and technology.
If it had been passed by the House, Trump’s vision would have been well on its way to being realized under President Barack Obama. But then-House Speaker John Boehner refused to bring that bill up for a vote, saying that instead House committees would pursue a piecemeal approach. They never produced anything equivalent.
The reason Democrats in the Senate agreed to the tough enforcement provisions, which were added late in the legislative process, was because once those provisions were met, they would trigger reform measures aimed at fixing the broken immigration system, and create a way to deal with the 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the United States.
“Those amendments were a tough pill to swallow, and while I would not usually agree to a lot of what was in those provisions, they reflected a sincere give-and-take that put us over the finish line,” said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who was a member of the bipartisan Gang of Eight that put the bill together.
Menendez sees little give and a lot of take in the new approach to building a wall that has been emerging from the White House and GOP leaders in recent days, with Trump signing an executive order to build the wall.
“It is the height of hypocrisy to now see the same House Republicans that killed the most expansive and bipartisan border protection package in decades, use alt-facts to applaud President Trump for asking American taxpayers to fund his reckless border militarization plans ― especially when questions about securing the border would have been long addressed if not for their own obstruction,” Menendez said.
His statement likely signals a major problem for Trump and Republican leaders. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) will be able to pass a bill in the House that funds Trump’s desires. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will need to get 60 votes in the Senate, meaning he needs to sway at least eight Democrats to his side.
A Democratic leadership aide said that was unlikely, and indeed, pointed to the 2013 bill for the sorts of measures Democrats would need to have included before they would fund Trump’s vision.
The aide also noted that building a wall does nothing to curb immigrants who fly to the United States legally then stay, and who represent 40 percent of the undocumented population. That also was addressed in the bill that House Republicans refused to even debate.
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