Reid Open to Separate Funding for Israel, Wildfires and Border in Pre-Recess Rush

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The pre-recess rush began Monday with a plea from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.  

"Leaving here with Israel being naked as they are, with these wildfires raging and a crisis at the border, it would be a shame if we did nothing," the Nevada Democrat said on the Senate floor.  

Those three priority items would get emergency funding under a measure introduced last week by Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md.  

The roughly $2.7 billion in emergency money for the crisis of unaccompanied migrant children from Central America is by far the largest chunk of the funds, and it is far more contentious than the $225 million requested by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel for a payment to Israel for the Iron Dome anti-missile system.  

But Reid sounded amendable to splitting the package if it would expedite movement on the floor.  

"We should approve funding in these three very important measures, and we should do it immediately. We should do them separately, together. We've got to get this done," Reid said. Such a move may well be needed given the disagreements on both the dollar amount and policy substance of the immigration portion of the bill.  

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., last week called for action on a standalone Iron Dome supplemental.  

"Republicans are united in support of our ally Israel. We have legislation that would allow Congress to meet the secretary's request. And we hope our friends on the other side will join us in coming to a sensible, bipartisan solution that can be passed quickly," McConnell said.  

"Coming to the defense of Israel is not a partisan issue," Reid said Monday. "It's an American principle. Both Democrats and Republicans should agree on this measure."  

Reid cautioned that if hostilities continue, Israel may need more emergency money. In addition, he called for action on the $615 million requested by the White House for fighting wild fires in the West.  

"We should pass this immediately also," Reid said. "Over the past month or six weeks, the state of Oregon has been on fire. Hundreds of thousands of acres have been burned."  

The immediate business pending before the Senate actually remains a measure sponsored by Democratic Sen. John Walsh of Montana designed to promote "insourcing" of jobs. Absent a unanimous consent agreement, that measure could remain the pending business until at least Wednesday.  

The Senate already has other big-ticket items in the queue: legislation to avert a shortfall of the Highway Trust Fund and confirmation of Bob McDonald to be the next Secretary of veterans affairs. In addition, senators are expected to act by week's end on the bipartisan veterans health agreement formally announced Monday by House and Senate negotiators.  

"Sufficient sums of money must be provided so that the VA has the resources to immediately end unacceptably long waiting times in many VA facilities throughout the country," Senate Veterans' Affairs Chairman Bernard Sanders said in unveiling that deal. "This bill does that by contracting out with private medical providers, community health centers, Department of Defense facilities and Indian Health Service clinics."