Midstate Legislators

Midstate legislators, clockwise from top left, Rep. Scott Perry, Sen. Pat Toomey, Sen. Bob Casey and Rep. John Joyce

National legislators who represent Cumberland County have made several overtures toward a solution for the partial government shutdown.

But President Donald Trump has not indicated he will budge from his position of demanding a $5 billion border security appropriation, something that Democrats see as an appeasement of Trump’s ambition of building a border wall.

Here’s how legislators have reacted in recent days:

Rep. Scott Perry

Perry, the Republican congressman who represents Carlisle and the eastern portion of Cumberland County, has called on House Democrats to compromise with Republicans on a higher level of border security spending.

Perry has voted against appropriations bills that would fund portions of the government not related to border security, such as the votes last week to re-open the Treasury, Interior, Agriculture and other federal departments.

He has also opposed the House security bill that would appropriate $1.3 billion for border security, a similar figure to previous House budgets, calling it a “status quo” deal that does not address illegal border crossings.

Such bills have passed the House with unanimous Democratic support as well as votes from a handful of Republicans. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he will not bring them up in the Senate unless Trump signals that he will not veto them.

“We can’t work it out by moving the same bills that don’t do anything and are never going to move through the Senate and that aren’t going to be signed by the president,” Perry said.

Perry and some other Republicans have signaled that, despite Trump’s bellicose campaign rhetoric about a border wall, a wall per se is not a requirement.

“I support the wall, the barrier, the fence or something where it is needed per the Border Patrol and per Homeland Security,” Perry said on C-SPAN this week.

Perry said Trump’s insistence on a $5 billion appropriation for border security had a rationale in covering the most commonly used and dangerous illegal crossing points along the border.

“What I think the president is talking about and what many Americans are talking about is that we’ve got this couple thousand mile long border and we’re looking at some places, according to Border Patrol, the top 10 worst places for entry where we want to put some kind of barrier,” Perry said.

This would channel immigrants to better crossing points, where the US Border Patrol could better use it’s manpower to bring them before asylum judges faster, Perry said.

Sen. Pat Toomey

Pennsylvania’s Republican senator has also called for a border compromise, pointing out in recent days that the $5 billion appropriation demanded by the White House would not fund an actual wall along the entire border, despite Trump’s campaign promises.

“Sen. Toomey does not believe a 2,000 mile continuous wall is practical, nor is it what the White House is currently requesting,” said Toomey’s spokesman, Steve Kelly.

In December, the Department of Homeland Security said a $5.7 billion request would be used for 215 miles of “wall system,” of which 100 miles would be over land that does not have a barrier, requiring possible use of eminent domain to acquire the land.

Kelly did not say if Toomey would support any of the House partial funding bills if McConnell would bring them to the floor despite a likely Trump veto.

Toomey said Thursday that he supports Senate legislation to provide pay for federal workers who have been deemed “essential” and are working without pay.

Toomey also supports a Senate bill to prevent future shutdowns by providing that federal agencies will automatically be funded at existing levels for 90 days if Congress fails to pass a new appropriation, and will continue to renew their funding every 90 days with a 1 percent decrease until a budget deal becomes law.

Toomey has expressed interest in reviving a compromise deal similar to the 2013 “Gang of Eight” immigration reform bill. That bill would have appropriated $46 billion for border security, while also making immigration policy changes.

This would include a path to citizenship for immigrants who were brought into the country illegally as children and have been allowed to stay under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals order issued by President Barrack Obama.

“Sen. Toomey is open to including a solution on DACA as part of a compromise, but there also needs to be a commitment to border security, which includes physical barriers where they make sense,” Kelly said.

Sen. Bob Casey

Like Toomey, Pennsylvania’s Democratic senator was a supporter of the 2013 immigration bill, and has said it should be floated again in order to avoid future impasse.

“Once the government is reopened, Congress should have a substantial debate on how to fix our broken system and begin work on legislation that mirrors the bipartisan 2013 comprehensive immigration reform bill,” Casey said in a statement.

Casey would rather re-open the government first and negotiate on immigration afterward, something Trump is so far not interested in doing.

Casey and other Democrats have said that Republican legislators were seemingly fine with a lower level of border security funding until Trump made his veto threat.

In December, the Senate passed a bill by unanimous voice vote that would have continued border security appropriations at their current level, either $1.3 billion or $1.6 billion, depending on who was counting. The spending package was quashed by then-Speaker of the House Paul Ryan after Trump said he would veto it.

But since Democrats have passed similar legislation this year, McConnell has refused to bring the legislation up in the Senate as long as Trump threatens to veto.

“President Trump should commit to signing the Republican bills passed by the Democratic House that would reopen the government and secure the border with over $1 billion in funding,” Casey said this month.

Although some Republicans, such as Toomey, say the $5 billion Trump seeks won’t lead to an actual wall, Democrats fear that it will.

Casey’s camp pointed to a Governmental Accountability Office study from last year that found the Department of Homeland Security “faces an increased risk that the Border Wall System Program will cost more than projected, take longer than planned, and not fully perform as expected.”

Trump has described the DHS “wall system” in various ways, including his most recent promotion of a “steel slat” barrier on Twitter. He has also been unclear on how continuous it would be. A few days after the shutdown began last month, he said his ultimate goal was 500 to 550 miles of new or replacement barrier “as high as 30 feet” by the next election.

Rep. John Joyce

Dr. John Joyce’s district covers a large area of central and western Pennsylvania, including western Cumberland County.

Like Perry, Joyce has voted against Democratic-backed measures to partially re-open the government.

“We are in this situation because Democrats refuse to compromise and fund the border wall, even though many of them voted to do so in the past,” Joyce said in a floor speech last week.

Democrats have not voted to fund a wall, per se, during the Trump presidency. The May 2017 and March 2018 omnibus spending acts limited border security spending to the replacement and improvement of barriers with designs already in use, according to NBC and NPR.

The issue stretches back to the 2006 Secure Fencing Act, which authorized the construction of 700 miles of new barriers along the southern border but did not appropriate all the funds to do so.

The total expenditure on southern border barriers between 2007 and 2015, according to the GAO, was $2.3 billion across several budget appropriations. From 2005 to 2015, according to Customs and Border Patrol, the total mileage of fencing, bollards, and other barriers along the southern border increased from 119 miles to 654 miles.

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