WASHINGTON - A key Senate panel Thursday gave swift bipartisan approval to a $47 billion budget for the Department of Homeland Security, boosting funding to cope with an influx of Central American children who arrive in the U.S. unaccompanied by their parents.
The Appropriations Committee approved the measure by voice vote after a brief hearing. The measure comes as the once-promising pace of the annual appropriations cycle is slowing. A procedural battle stalled an effort to bring a measure funding several other Cabinet departments to a floor vote and several contentious bills have seen committee consideration delayed.
The bill boosts the administration's request for the Customs Service and Border Patrol for initial handling of unaccompanied immigrant children arriving on the southern border by $77 million.
The measure also includes a provision to increase the fee paid by travelers who enter the U.S. by commercial sea and air carriers by $2 to $9, using the revenue to pay for 1,000 new customs agents.
The measure funds the government's newest Cabinet department and is free of contentious issues that dot many of the other 11 spending bills. It increases the budget for Customs and Border Protection by 4 percent and increases funding for detention of people entering the country illegally.
It also contains several provisions of interest to the bill's chief author, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., who faces a difficult re-election campaign this fall, including $318 million to build six fast response Coast Guard cutters at Bollinger Shipyards in her home state instead of the two requested by the Obama administration. Landrieu also boosted funding for updating the maps used to determine flood zones in anticipation of a future re-write of the government's flood insurance program.