- The Washington Times - Monday, December 16, 2019

House and Senate negotiators have rejected President Trump’s demand for $5 billion to spend on his border wall next year, instead crafting a final compromise that offers him the same $1.375 billion they included in the spending bill.

Negotiators also rejected Mr. Trump’s plans to hire additional agents for the Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but did not curtail ICE’s ability to detain immigrants who are in the country illegally.

Instead, the new deal, which lawmakers announced Monday and which is expected to be voted on later this week, pours additional money into what’s known as “alternatives to detention.” Those methods, such as ankle bracelets and phone call check-ins, are popular with Democrats, but ICE says they’re a waste of money, leading to relatively few deportations.

The bill will be a significant challenge for Mr. Trump, who a year ago sent the government into a partial shutdown because Congress was offering only $1.375 billion in wall money.

After the longest shutdown in history, Mr. Trump relented and signed a bill that contained the $1.375 billion — though he immediately declared a border emergency, siphoning billions more from the Pentagon to be spent on the wall.

The courts are currently deciding if that emergency move was legal.

Mr. Trump, intent on completing as much wall as possible before he faces voters in November, had requested an additional $5 billion to continue building in 2020. That was the key sticking point as Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill fought over the fiscal 2020 spending bills.

Administration officials privately say they would have been hard-pressed to spend $5 billion and $1.375 billion is more in line with what’s possible over the next year. But the symbolism of the $5 billion number had become overbearing.

Other parts of the new spending bill include a $20 million boost to the Homeland Security inspector general to conduct more rigorous oversight of ICE, and $173 million for better care for migrants in border custody.

Even though Congress limited Mr. Trump’s border wall plans, the money that was included was too much for the Sierra Club, which said any additional fencing would hurt.

“The damage of border walls and militarization has left irreversible damage to wildlife and our communities,” said Dan Millis, borderlands program manager at the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter.

Congressional negotiators, aware that some Democrats will balk at any bill that funds ICE, combined the Homeland Security spending bill with the Defense Department 2020 funding measure, but kept those separate from the domestic spending bills.

The expectation is that Democrats will provide the votes to pass the domestic measure while Republicans push the national security measure over the threshold in the House, allowing full-government funding to clear, even though if they were in the same measure it might struggle to pass.

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