The conference committee tasked with negotiating border security before the next shutdown Wednesday showed it still has a lot of work before reaching a deal.
The partial government shutdown was well into a record length when it finally ended on January 25.
But the new spending bill only reopens the government for another three weeks — before it will close again if there’s no other action taken. The House and Senate formed the conference committee, which met for the first time on Wednesday, to reach a compromise.
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Democrats on the conference committee agreed border security was important — but they doubted a physical barrier was the best approach. They argued that investments in technology, personnel and stronger ports of entry are the better approach.
Republicans didn’t necessarily disagree — but they asserted a border wall needs to be a part of those solutions.
“We should focus on proven solutions like equipment at ports of entry to detect drugs and new technology between ports of entry to detect unauthorized crossings,” House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.)(shown above left) said during the first meeting. “Smart border security is not overly reliant [on] physical barriers, which the Trump administration failed to demonstrate its cost-effectiveness compared to technology and more personal,” she added.
President Donald Trump said he would not sign any more spending bills that don’t include $5.7 billion for the border wall.
Democratic leaders opposed providing any funding for the wall — which led both sides to cause the government shutdown on December 22. But the president eventually backed away from his veto threat by signing the short-term bill.
“With a three-week continuing resolution in place, today we begin in earnest negotiations to resolve our difference on this critical issue,” Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.)(above right) said. “Thus far all sides seem to agree that border security is important. I think that is a good start, but we cannot end there. These negotiations must not end with platitudes or promises. They must yield results that actually secure the border.”
Shelby added lawmakers should be looking toward the solutions that the border patrol officials on the front lines have suggested.
He argued that approach would be a comprehensive plan that includes technology, infrastructure, personnel and physical barriers like border walls.
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“Smart technology is a part of a comprehensive solution, but it’s not the only solution in and of itself,” Shelby said. “Cameras, sensors, drones and other smart technology highlight the gaps and vulnerabilities along our long border. In short, they provide a greater awareness of where our insecurities are. But smart technology alone doesn’t actually stop anyone from crossing the border illegally.”
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters after the government reopened that border security is still a top priority. She said the president only reopened the government because Democrats have signaled a willingness to reach a deal.
Trump himself warned committee members on Wednesday to give him a wall hours before they met for the first time on Wednesday.
“We can reach a bipartisan agreement, fund our government and secure our borders,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said Wednesday in a statement. “But our choice on how to allocate taxpayer dollars must be grounded in reality. We need to address problems with solutions based on facts, nor merely rooted in campaign rhetoric.”
“We all support border security,” Leahy also said. “Everybody on our side has voted … for border security. We’ll continue to support border security. But we’re for smart border security.”
“I believe we need a physical barrier, I want to be candid with my friends,” said Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.), for his part, on Wednesday. “I do think we need a wall, a physical barrier, where a barrier works. But that’s only one part of it. We need all of the above. We need more technology and we need more border patrol agents.”
“We ended an unnecessary and costly shutdown and got hundreds of thousands of folks across the country back to work,” Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) said. “But this short-term bill we passed started a clock on fulfilling a promise that we made to the America people, that we’ll end the uncertainty that upended so many people’s lives. If we don’t get back to work and find a lasting solution, we’ll end up where we started.”
“We have to find cost-effective solutions to border security that actually work that include using everything in the toolbox including technology, aircraft, watercraft and manpower,” Tester also said. “We have to beef up security at our ports of entry, where the vast majority of drugs enter our country. We need a true cost-benefit analysis that takes into account the expense of physical barriers versus technology.”
The Homeland Security Department appropriations bill won’t just include immigration issues, but also many national security issues the agency covers.
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