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Boehner's Border Bill Is a Sideshow

It's a lousy proposal, maybe even a counter-productive one

Getty Images: Win McNamee

Forget about House Republicans suing the president. The more important news is about what House Republicans are doing—and not doing—about the border crisis.

Earlier this week, House Republican leaders introduced a bill they hoped to pass quickly. Whether they can remains very much in doubt. House Speaker John Boehner can lose no more than 16 members of his own caucus, assuming no Democrats vote for it. And conservative agitators like Senator Ted Cruz and Heritage Action are busy lobbying like-minded House Republicans to vote against the bill. 

There’s still a full day to go before Congress escapes town and Boehner could prevail. Late Wednesday, he promised rank-and-file members of Congress they’d also get a chance to vote on a separate bill, somehow curbing Obama’s powers to change priorities over deportations and defunding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which conservatives say is responsible for the current crisis. Details on the proposal are fuzzy, just like the supposed link between the influx of unaccompanied minors and DACA. The debate sets up the drama I imagine many news organizations will follow today: Will Boehner round up the votes or not?

But the real story here is just how lousy the House border bill is. It focuses heavily on border security, even though, as my colleague Danny Vinik and many others have noted, the current crisis has nothing to do with security. Kids are showing up and seeking out agents, so that they can turn themselves in. The House bill also would change a 2008 law under which unaccompanied minors from Central America receive different treatment than those from Mexico. That’s a more defensible and serious step, although it also has a serious problem its sponsors don’t address. Many of the children have plausible claims for asylum or special juvenile status. Returning them more quickly means they won’t get a chance to make their cases. Is that what the sponsors want?

The most striking problem with the House bill is how little money it allocates to what is a very big problem. Much of the reporting on the House bill I’ve seen mentions that it includes funding for agencies that house new arrivals and process their immigration claims. But, as David Rogers noted in Politico this week, the funding discrepancy with both the Senate version is “stark”—just $22 million for the Justice Department, compared to the $123 million in the Senate’s bill. One reason for the discrepancy is that the Senate bill wouldn’t just pay for more judges to hear immigration cases. It would also help pay for lawyers, so that children had the benefit of legal counsel, something they desperately need when pleading their cases in a strange country an in a strange language. The House bill doesn’t.

Poll on attitudes about unaccompanied minors

Spending money is not something Republicans like to do and, let’s be honest, it’s not something the taxpaying public always likes either. Still, public sentiments about this issue are complicated—and sometimes surprising. In a poll from the Public Religion Research Institute, some 70 percent of respondents said the U.S. should find a way to house and shelter the unaccompanied minors while they wait for a chance to make their cases to stay. It’s one survey and, on issues like this, it’s hard to capture the nuanced and sometimes conflicting attitudes that voters really have. But the bulk of evidence suggests the public wants Congress to do something relatively humane. The chances of that happening look very, very slim. 

Jonathan Cohn

Things to know

VA: The House overwhelmingly passed legislation to address the Veterans Affairs scandal that Democrats and Republicans agreed to Sunday. (Jonathan Weisman, New York Times)

ECONOMY: Argentina teetered on the brink of default Wednesday for the second time in 13 years. (Nicole Hong, Taos Turner and Matt Day, Wall Street Journal

Things to read

Antipoverty: David Frum calls Paul Ryan's antipoverty agenda "obsolete" and offers five ways he can improve it.

Work and family: ThinkProgress has some graphs on paid family leave policy, in the U.S. and other countries. Basically, we don’t have it and they do.

Things to follow 

Negotiations over the border bill: The Senate is also trying to pass a bill and its fate, too, remains in doubt.

Things at QED

Jen Gunter, a physician, explains why doctors need to ask patients about gun ownership and other private matters. Rebecca Leber figures out just how much water was lost when a main in the city of Los Angeles broke. (It’s a lot!)  Danny Vinik reads newly released data on the economy and thinks it’s encouraging, but warns that it’s way too early to talk about the Fed raising interest rates.