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House GOP seeks cover with slimmer border bill

By Deirdre Walsh and Dana Bash, CNN
updated 11:47 AM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • House Republicans hope to vote on scaled-down bill before they leave town for recess
  • "I'm not going home -- I don't have enough guns to protect myself," Republican tells CNN
  • Scaled-down funding, change to 2008 law are non-starters in the Senate

Washington (CNN) -- House Republicans are fashioning a scaled-down bill to address the southern border crisis that would provide less than $1 billion and include an immigration policy change that most Democrats strongly oppose.

There is increasing concern from members that they cannot leave town next week for their August recess without showing they have a solution to the surge of migrant youth from Central America overwhelming immigration services.

"I'm not going home -- I don't have enough guns to protect myself," Texas GOP Rep. John Carter told CNN about his determination to get something passed in the House.

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Expressing his anxiety about the need to address the situation in his state, Carter said, "It's that bad in Texas."

Poll: Border crisis impacts public opinion

But even if the House does pass a measure, a significant number of Senate Democrats are pushing for a larger spending bill without any policy change. So, it's unclear whether legislation would get to President Barack Obama's desk in time.

Earlier this week, House GOP leaders discussed a $1.5 billion package -- more than $1 billion less than a plan introduced on Tuesday by Senate Democrats and significantly smaller than the $3.7 billion proposal the White House sent to Congress earlier this month.

Obama meeting with Central American leaders

But with solid Democratic opposition, House Speaker John Boehner and his deputies struggled to get enough support from fellow Republicans to hit the 218-vote threshold needed for passage.

A significant bloc of GOP members doesn't want to give Obama any more money or change a law they don't believe he'll enforce anyway.

Texas Rep. Kay Granger said after a meeting with all House Republicans on Friday that the emerging plan will include some key recommendations from a border working group appointed by Boehner that she headed up. The package will also have a smaller price tag.

The chief policy aim is to alter a 2008 law to make it easier to deport children coming to the United States from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Currently, they are permitted to stay in the country until they receive a hearing. That can take months or years.

Those who maintain they face threats of sexual abuse or violence would stay in United States and receive a hearing within seven days.

The Obama administration has indicated that it is open to making some tweaks to the law, but many congressional Democrats oppose changes and reject the GOP's move to attach that provision to the border money.

Florida Rep. Mario Diaz Balart, a member of the GOP working group that traveled to Central American recently, argued that linking the policy with the money was critical.

"You have to deal with the problem. The perception by people in other countries that America will allow you to come here and make any claim you choose and stay. That is not true. We need to engage the President," be said.

The House GOP bill also calls for sending National Guard troops to the border and allowing Border Patrol agents to enter federal lands.

Rep. Devin Nunes, a California Republican, told CNN there was "broad consensus" to vote on the measure next week.

White House: Congress shouldn't leave town without acting

One conservative GOP member, South Carolina Rep. Mick Mulvaney, questioned whether the situation was really the crisis that many say it is, but said he supported the pledge from leaders to offset the new spending by drawing funds from other programs.

"As long as it's paid for I have no difficulty with moving money within the government. You're going to have to find a way to care for the people who are here, that's the reality we face. You're going to have to find a way to pay for sending people home. That's just a reality we face," Mulvaney said.

Acknowledging that the GOP bill could fail to attract enough Democrats and conservatives, Illinois Republican Adam Kinzinger said, "If they want to vote no, let them. Let them own their votes."

The No. 2 Democrat in the Senate drew a hard line on accepting any immigration policy changes as part of the border bill.

"The overwhelming majority of Democrats think it's a mistake," Sen. Dick Durbin told CNN on Thursday.

Sen Dianne Feinstein, D-California, the 2008 law's original author and now the point person for the White House on finding a way to make changes, told CNN she does not think it can happen by the end of next week.

"This bill is very complicated and we have to know what we're doing," said Feinstein.

Crisis on the border

Rick Perry on the border

CNN's Paul Courson contributed to this report

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