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Can Congress Agree On How To Spend Money To Address Border Crisis?


Over the past several months, migrants have continued to cross the border from Mexico into the U.S. The U.S. agencies tasked with processing these arrivals are almost out of money. And this is happening as reports in the media show poor conditions in temporary facilities, including those housing children. Congress says this is a crisis. But can they agree on how money should be spent to fix it? President Trump spoke directly to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi today.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I think that Nancy wants to get something done and the Senate or the House will get together. I think they'll be able to do something.

CORNISH: NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell has been following the negotiations. She joins us now from Capitol Hill. And, Kelsey, let's just start with where things stand on the border funding more generally.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Well, talks are actively ongoing with an effort to try to get something passed by the end of the week. So the Senate passed one bill, the House passed another, and now they want to reach an agreement before the week is over. Nearly everybody on Capitol Hill agrees that there is a crisis and that the agencies are going to run out of cash. That is not a question. The question is, how are they going to reconcile these two only slightly different bills?

CORNISH: If everyone says they want to make sure the money is approved, what are the obstacles?

SNELL: The bill that the House passed has a lot more requirements and restrictions than what the Senate approved, and that's really what it comes down to. Progressives and members of the Hispanic Caucus in the House pushed for that bill to require agencies to set minimum standards for care in detention facilities. They're talking about things like nutrition and hygiene and basic medical care. They also want caps on how long unaccompanied children can stay in shelters. And they want those standards of care to be uniform for government contractors. And they want there to be, you know, some way to hold these companies accountable if they don't follow through. Now, the Senate doesn't have any of that. What they do have is $145 million for the Department of Defense, and House Democrats really, really don't like that part.

CORNISH: House and the Senate not being on the same page - not unusual. But what happens next?

SNELL: Well, House Speaker Pelosi called President Trump, as we heard the president say there, and it was right before he left for the G20 summit in Japan. And she wanted to make sure that they could do some negotiating and reach a middle ground even though he's not going to be here in the country. I caught up with her today, and she said the House and the Senate are just doing their jobs and a compromise is possible.

NANCY PELOSI: They passed their bill. We respect that. We passed our bill. We hope they would respect that. And there's some improvements that we think can be reconciled.

SNELL: Now, that's not as black and white as we've heard in previous negotiations where the House and Senate are pretty far apart. And Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told some reporters today that Pelosi is asking specifically for the final bill to include checks on the Department of Homeland Security and child-related policies. We don't know much more than that. It is important to note the Pelosi didn't completely reject the Senate bill. She just says that hers is better.

CORNISH: Any chance they're going to find a way to agree on something before they all leave town for the July 4 holiday?

SNELL: Well, the aides tell me that they are very serious about getting this done. And it's - to be clear, there's a lot of pressure to do something and serious consequences if they fail. And the Senate has a strong hand in the negotiations. Their bill was bipartisan. It passed 84-to-8, which is really a very powerful vote. This all suggests that the House could pass maybe the Senate bill if Pelosi was willing to let that happen or they could reach some sort of kind of narrow agreement that would allow both sides to declare some sort of victory and go home at the end of this week and tell their constituents that they took their actions to, you know, get the money to the border.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Kelsey Snell. Kelsey, thank you.

SNELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.