Senate Republicans were denied a chance Thursday to beef up enforcement and security measures at the U.S. border with Mexico, with one senior Senate Democrat telling them, "We cannot just throw money at this problem."
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, who is leading Senate Democratic efforts to craft a comprehensive immigration reform bill, albeit with no GOP support at this time, called the GOP measures "a grab bag of enormous spending."
President Obama, meanwhile endorsed a comprehensive approach on Thursday, telling reporters that in a closed door meeting with Republicans the previous day, he promised, "I don't even need you to meet me half way, meet me a quarter of the way. I'll bring a majority of Democrats."
But Senate Democrats are not expected to consider a bill this year, if GOP support is not forthcoming.
Instead, the President is expected to send a proposal to Congress next week that calls for $500 million to deploy 1,200 National Guard to the border, fund programs for Drug Enforcement Administration, Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, the FBI, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The amendments offered Thursday to an emergency spending bill by border state Republicans, including Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl, and Texas Sens. John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison, would have added significant muscle at the border. One, trumpeted by McCain, would have sent 6,000 National Guardsmen to the border.
McCain noted that Obama's deployment of guardsmen is only a fifth of what's really needed, saying, "The borders are broken. There has been improvement. We have shown in San Diego, in Texas, even in the Yuma sector of Arizona, we can secure our border, but we need manpower, surveillance and fences. And we can do it," McCain said, "We have an obligation to our citizens to secure our border and allow them to lead lives where they not live in fear of home invasions, property being destroyed, and well-armed, well-equipped drug smugglers as well as human smugglers operate with, if not impunity, certainly great latitude."
A second amendment would have implemented a muscular, enforcement program called "Operation Streamline" that has resulted in a 94% reduction in illegal border crossings, according to a Kyl aide, since its introduction in 2005. It is currently deployed in Yuma and Del Rio, TX. Price tag of the amendment: $200 million - fully paid for using unspent stimulus funds.
And the last amendment, spearheaded by Cornyn, would have bolstered law enforcement agencies and funds for infrastructure, technology, and equipment to the tune of $2 billion, paid for by stimulus funds that have not been allocated.
"It is in fact the federal government's responsibility to deal with this as the president himself has acknowledged in his recent announcement to send 1,200 additional National Guard to the border. I will tell you that it is a welcome gesture, but it is no more than that a gesture," Cornyn said.
Schumer decried the GOP amendments, which failed to get the necessary 60 votes for passage, as "overmagnified," and "the worst kind of robbing Peter to pay Paul" to use the stimulus funds to pay for border protection, funds that Schumer said are intending to create jobs.
Instead, Schumer said the President's latest approach was the right one, "thoughtful and targeted."
Cornyn, for his part, said he would be happy to join Schumer's comprehensive immigration reform effort if the border is dealt with first. "The problem we have with our broken immigration system is that it is simply not perceived as credible by the American people. Until we deal with this broken border, we are not going to be able to deal with other aspects of our broken immigration system, which I would support an effort to do that," Cornyn said.