WASHINGTON — A bill to deal with the immigration surge at the border was headed for a procedural vote in the Senate Wednesday despite bickering between Democrats and Republicans over which party is to blame for Congress's failure to act.
Days ahead of Congress' five-week summer recess, a $3.5 billion emergency spending bill offered by Democrats to help deal with young migrants crossing the border illegally seemed more dead than alive, parliamentary machinations notwithstanding.
Republicans indicated they would lend their support for a motion to position the issue on the floor for consideration because getting to that next step in the Senate's arcane parliamentary process would allow them to offer amendments. The GOP is concerned about being seen as simply blocking the legislation amid intense public scrutiny of the crisis in South Texas.
"If we don't do anything to deal with the causes or deal with a remedy for this growing humanitarian crisis it's going to get worse," Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said on the Senate floor, ahead of the vote.
Still, the inclusion in the legislation of hundreds of millions of dollars to fight Western wildfires and provide aid for Israel's defense didn't look to be a sufficient lure to ensure passage before lawmakers vacate Washington at the end of this week. Republicans are demanding legal changes rejected by Democrats to return the young migrants more quickly to Central America.
Lawmakers said they would try to act separately to send $225 million to Israel to help with its Iron Dome anti-missile program as it battles Hamas, while action on the wildfire money was being put off.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said it was Republicans' fault that the Senate looked set to adjourn for August without addressing what both parties have called a humanitarian crisis on the border. Republicans "oppose everything the president wanted. Here is an example of that," he said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., disputed that, saying, "The problem is the Democratic Senate."
House Republicans, meanwhile, were hoping they could act on their own solution, a slimmed-down, $615 million measure that leaves out the money for wildfires and Israel but includes the contentious policy changes rejected by Senate Democrats. These include dispatching the National Guard to the border and changing the law to permit unaccompanied migrant youths to be returned more quickly to Central America without deportation hearings that are now required.
But there was no guarantee House Speaker John Boehner would be able to count on enough support to pass the bill as he aimed for a vote Thursday.
Many conservatives remained skeptical, and Reid fomented those concerns by threatening to use the House bill as a vehicle to attach the Senate's comprehensive immigration overhaul bill, which the House has rejected.
Boehner responded angrily, accusing Reid of "making a deceitful and cynical attempt to derail the House's commonsense solution."
"So let me be as clear as I can be with Sen. Reid: The House of Representatives will not take up the Senate immigration reform bill or accept it back from the Senate in any fashion," Boehner said in a statement.
More than 57,000 unaccompanied minors have arrived since October, mostly from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Many are fleeing vicious gangs and are trying to reunite with family members, but they also are drawn by rumors that once here, they would be allowed to stay.
The Homeland Security Department says overwhelmed border agencies will be running out of money in coming months, and President Barack Obama asked Congress to agree to provide $3.7 billion.