- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 18, 2019

Key Democrats are lobbying to block any additional money from going toward what they call President Trump’s cruel immigration enforcement policies, saying they won’t be complicit in helping his strict interpretation of enforcing the laws.

About 20 senators, including the party’s presidential hopefuls, signed a letter this week demanding their leaders hold firm against Mr. Trump’s requests for more money for detention beds at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and more wall money for Customs and Border Protection.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, went further this week, saying she still wants to abolish ICE itself, saying the agency cannot be reformed.

The demands are the latest evidence that immigration policy, which produced two government shutdowns last year, could once again be a flashpoint as Congress turns to writing spending bills for fiscal year 2020.

“We cannot support the appropriation of funds that would expand this administration’s unnecessarily cruel immigration enforcement policies, its inhumane immigrant detention systems, or its efforts to build the president’s vanity projects,” the senators wrote.

They said Congress should cut “detention funding” back to what it was in 2016 under President Obama. That could slash money for thousands of detention beds out of Mr. Trump’s request.

Overall, the president asked for $9.3 billion to fund ICE next year, and $20.9 billion for CBP, which oversees the Border Patrol and the ports of entry.

A coalition of dozens of liberal activist groups penned a letter saying those requests are too much.

“It is unacceptable to claim support for immigrant communities while continuing to grow the already inflated budgets for ICE and CBP,” the groups said, challenging Democrats to reject the president’s demand.

Whether party leaders heed those calls could go a long way toward determining whether Congress is able to write spending bills this year. Key lawmakers have tried to head off shutdown talk.

“It’s not a sensible thing to do, and I don’t believe we’ll do that again,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said on Fox News.

He said he and Speaker Nancy Pelosi have agreed to start staff-level talks about a deal to lift strict spending caps over the next two years. Without a deal, spending would be cut by about $125 billion next year alone.

Rep. Charles Fleischmann, Tennessee Republican, said it’s going to take the administration, the Senate, and the House to come together to lift the spending caps and get the 2020 spending process to have “some semblance of order.”

Otherwise, he said, Congress would likely have to resort to stopgap spending — what’s known on Capitol Hill as a continuing resolution or CR, which keeps the government operating at previous levels. CRs are considered a failure by congressional appropriators, who say they are inefficient and deny Congress the power to recalibrate spending levels.

Mr. Fleischmann said it’s still too early to entertain that talk.

“I don’t think shutdown — I hope not shutdown,” he said. “Yeah, it’s too early to talk CR because I really think if there’s any good news in this we are going to move forward in marking up appropriations bills.”

The House Appropriations Committee plans to get the 2020 appropriations process started at the subcommittee level the week of April 29, when Congress returns from a two-week break.

Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey has indicated she plans to conform her spending bills to the levels set in Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth’s caps legislation — even though that legislation hasn’t yet passed the House, much less been adopted by the Senate.

Mr. Yarmuth’s plan allows for up to $733 billion in discretionary defense spending in 2020. That’s far less than Mr. Trump asked for but still more than liberal lawmakers said they could stomach.

Mr. Yarmuth said it’s “never too early” to be talking about a potential shutdown or stopgap funding bill.

“I know how fast time moves — we’re less than six months away,” the Kentucky Democrat said.

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