(Bakken) – Senate Republicans are fighting to save funds for the construction of the former President Trump‘s long sought wall on the U.S.-Mexico border while Democrats push forward with plans to repeal nearly $ 2 billion in funding for his signature project.
Republicans in the upper house are pushing for the funding already earmarked for the construction of the barrier to be used to help continue progress on the project, a halted effort that would likely take years longer and more money to complete.
Earlier this month, a group of Republicans – Sens. Mike Braun (Ind.), Ted Cruz (Texas), Mike Lee (Utah), Cynthia Lummis (Wyo.) And Marco Rubio (Fla.) – swore in a letter not to support the annual appropriations legislation to fund the government if no dollars are set aside for the wall, and asked their colleagues to do the same.
But not all Republicans agree with the idea.
Dens. Richard Shelby (Ala.), Top-ranked Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, warned against withholding support from a bipartisan deal, a move that could jeopardize funding for other major GOP-backed priorities, including military operations and national security.
“If we reach agreement on everything else and including defense, security, the nation, everything, I would not keep it all [appropriations] bill and punish the military, ”Shelby said.
While Shelby noted that he has long supported the border wall and said the funding of the project is “important”, he said that “funding the navy, army and air force intelligence, all of that, is top priority for the nation.”
The issue signals a potentially tough road for Republicans to see the border wall project through in the middle of spending negotiations, adding to a series of issues that leaders face in the coming weeks as both sides at a time struggle to reach agreement on state funding.
Last month, Senate Democrats outlined use plans to lift $ 1.9 billion in previous border barrier funds allocated by Congress in previous years, months after President Biden requested funding for the project to complete in its budget request for fiscal year 2022. The plan was introduced as part of proposed appropriation legislation from the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Home Security.
Biden, who campaigned about bringing the border wall construction to an end as president as well put a stop to defenses used for its development. The move came after former President Trump used emergency powers to get billions in defense dollars diverted to the wall after failing to get full funding for the project from Congress.
Republicans have attacked the Biden administration for stopping funding for an effort they and the former administration claim has been Effective in cracking down on illegal drug activities, border crossings and other crime in certain areas where barriers have been raised.
But top Democrats and critics have pushed back on those arguments, panning the previous administration’s approach to border security as ineffective and irresponsible. Opponents have pointed out how the barrier was built, maintenance costs and damage to the environment during construction.
Specifically, the Democrats’ plans to spend $ 50 million of the recycled funds on “efforts to limit the environment as a result of the construction of border walls” and come after the Trump administration. a series of lawsuits from advocacy groups in recent years who said the construction was in violation of environmental law.
Brett Hartl, director of government affairs at the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups that sued to stop the construction of the wall in 2017, said some of the damage has occurred in remote areas, with some border experts saying the location of the wall is not as effective or necessary as in urban areas.
“Very remote areas of Arizona and New Mexico where there are very, very few people, the nearest town is 50 or 100 miles away. They are not easy to access. You just do not need a wall out there,” he said. Hartl, while noting some of the permanent environmental damage caused by the construction, including the decimation of mountains to help clear the way for the wall.
Earlier this year, Hartl’s organization saw a victory in its legal challenge to the Trump administration after a judge ruled the government failed to take a “hard look” at the wall’s potential environmental impact before building the barrier. according to Reuters.
Now, Hartl said the organization hopes Democrats are able to follow plans to repeal the $ 1.9 billion in funding and help repair some of the environmental damage.
Although he said he expects some funds in the future will go to routine maintenance of the existing barrier, which Biden previously said he will not remove, he said the funding allocated is “the last big pot of money”, there is still left to be redirected from the barrier.
In their push for the funding of the wall, Republicans and supporters have sought to draw attention to the ongoing border situation that the nation has seen a wave in migrants at a border, to strengthen their arguments for the system.
“I think a lot of Republicans are concerned about the absolute chaos and disaster at the southern border,” Cruz told reporters when asked about his letter recently.
Victor Manjarrez, who served with the Border Patrol for more than two decades, also urged Congress to exercise caution given the current border situation, saying that while technology in more remote areas may be effective in buying agents’ response times, barriers have proved effective. in other more populated areas.
“It’s not the only way. But it’s part of the solution. It’s one tool in the toolbox,” said Manjarrez, director of the Center for Law and Human Behavior at the University of Texas at El Paso.
Dens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), A member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said many in his party are concerned “about border security” but just “think the wall is effortless and ineffective.”
However, Murphy, who also chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, said that does not mean Democrats are unwilling to negotiate on border security. “I’m willing to talk about funding for technology, funding for staff, funding for other hard infrastructure.”
In their funding proposal, the Senate Democrats outlined detailed plans to reuse the $ 2 billion in lifted barrier funding for border security technologies, including IT modernization efforts, expanded train capacity for customs and border protection staff, and the creation of three multifunctional facilities aimed at improving citizens.
“We think there are other better ways to secure our border,” Murphy said. “So if the Republicans want to close the government over a border wall, it’s their choice. But we were elected on the basis of our promise to be more concerned about border security, and I feel we have to keep that promise.”
In the 50-50 Senate, Democrats have a narrow majority when Vice President Harris counts the tie. However, in order to pass the appropriations legislation, at least 60 votes are needed, which means that the two parties will have to reach an agreement on expenditure.
As government funding expired for fiscal year 2021, which ended on the last day of September, Congress passed an ongoing resolution (CR) that allowed the government to be funded at spending levels set for the previous year, avert a shutdown and buy lawmakers more time for negotiations.
The legislation allows the government to remain funded until early December. But it’s Congress expected to pass another CR shortly after returning from the Thanksgiving holiday next week as the two sides have failed to reach an agreement on top lines for spending amid persistent disagreements.
Murphy said he has spoken to Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), the top Republican in the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, on financing border walls. But Capito said she and the senator are “just at totally opposite ends” over the matter.
“At some point, we will have to sit down and try to either compromise the issue or go for a continued solution that continues wall financing,” she said.
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