- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 22, 2011

After watching Republicans use immigration to attack their priorities for the past two years, Democrats are turning the table, saying congressional Republicans’ spending-cuts bill would slice money from border fencing and could scuttle much of President Obama’s Border Patrol surge.

Led by Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, they charged this week that the Republicans’ 2011 spending bill that the House passed early Saturday will cut the Border Patrol force by more than 800 agents and take $272 million of fencing and other infrastructure at a time when border violence is on the rise.

“Simply put, cuts of this magnitude will be devastating to our security and our economy,” Mr. Schumer and two colleagues wrote in a letter to House leaders. “They will render us unable to secure our borders and, even worse, will reverse the progress Congress has made in reducing the flow of illegal immigration, guns, and drugs along our border.”

Republicans said Mr. Schumer was misreading the numbers and that they include enough spending to pay for the full 21,370 agents while setting an absolute low of 20,500 agents.

“The assertion that our bill is weak on border security is simply wrong,” said Rep. Robert B. Aderholt, Alabama Republican and chairman of the spending subcommittee that oversees border funding. “If anyone looks at the funding priorities, they will see that we put money into securing the border.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, arrives Thursday for a news conference on Capitol Hill to respond to a statement made by House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio. (Associated Press)
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, arrives Thursday for a news ... more >

The fight is the latest round in the broader sparring over 2011 spending, which has dominated Washington for weeks.

House Republicans pushed through a bill over the weekend that would cut this year’s spending by $61 billion compared with 2010 levels. After initially balking, Senate Democrats say they are now willing to entertain some cuts, but that there’s not enough time to settle on a bill before March 4, when the current funding runs out.

They have rejected Republicans’ demand that even a short-term spending bill include cuts, instead arguing for continued 2010 spending for at least another month.

“We’re proposing a short-term solution that will give us time to negotiate,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat. “The American people are not interested in theatrics, ultimatums or threats. They want us to work together.”

Democrats have argued that the House Republicans’ bill shortchanges government duties in areas extending from transportation to education to security — which is where the fight over border security comes in.

While they work toward a broader bill to legalize illegal immigrants, Democrats have tried to boost border security spending.

Last year, faced with escalating reports of violence and while fighting states such as Arizona that were enacting their own immigration crackdowns, Mr. Obama announced a plan to boost the U.S. Border Patrol and, in the meantime, to deploy 1,200 National Guard troops to the border to help with surveillance and infrastructure.

A bill to fund the enhancements passed with strong bipartisan support last summer.

Fast-forward to the House Republicans’ spending bill, which did cut from homeland security funding.

Mr. Schumer, joined by Democratic Sens. Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico and Jon Tester of Montana, said the cuts will affect the Border Patrol and fencing.

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