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Casey to back bill to fund government, not border wall

Written by Marc Levy/Associated Press | Jan 23, 2019 1:24 PM
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FILE PHOTO: Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

This story has been updated. 

(Harrisburg) -- Democratic Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania said Wednesday he will vote against a bill reflecting President Donald Trump's demand for border wall funding, as the federal government's nearly five-week-old partial shutdown begins affecting Pennsylvania state government functions.

Casey, speaking at the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank in suburban Harrisburg, said he instead supports a bill already passed by the Democratic-controlled House to reopen the government through Feb. 8.

That bill does not allow money for a border wall. The Trump-backed bill includes $5.7 billion for border wall funding, along with funding to reopen the government on a longer-term basis, temporary protections for young immigrants and new curbs on Central Americans seeking safe haven in the U.S.

Casey said the first priority should be reopening the government before debating border security.

"We need to open the government first instead of being caught up in these debates about what one side will give to the other," Casey said. If Trump "wants to debate immigration after that for days or weeks or months, we can do that."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., scheduled the two votes for Thursday, a day before some 800,000 federal workers are due to miss a second paycheck.

Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania "will vote to reopen the government," his spokesman said Wednesday, although Toomey has yet to say how he will vote on each bill.

The votes, the first in the Senate since the shutdown began, are likely to fail to reach the 60-vote threshold needed in the Senate, where Republicans hold a 53-47 majority.

Still, Toomey calls Trump's proposal "reasonable" and deserving of a counter proposal from Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. The House Democratic bill passed 237-187, with every Democrat and six Republicans -- including Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania -- supporting it.

Toomey maintains that Trump's $5.7 billion proposal should be more broadly defined as funding border security, not just a wall, since the money could be used for technology and roads on the southern border, in addition to steel barriers.

Even so, Casey said Trump must be prevented from shutting down the government to get what he wants and that the president is distorting the truth about border security.

No expert thinks building a wall as Trump envisions it is an effective border strategy, Casey said.

"The president is obsessed with a wall, or something like a wall," Casey said. "Walls should be not confused with border security. We need to be smart to stop the flow of drugs and also to stop the flow of bad actors from coming in. Most of them are coming in through ports of entry."

On Wednesday, Gov. Tom Wolf's administration said it is, in some cases, using state dollars to front the cost where federal dollars are missing.

Elsewhere, the state is trying to find alternatives for businesses waiting for approvals of federal Small Business Administration loans. An elevation mapping project to help flood management, conservation and land use planning is on hold, as are final approvals on grant funding and permitting functions.

Pennsylvania's 1.8 million food stamp recipients received their February benefits last week and the program's funding is up in the air after that money runs out, administration officials said.

An earlier story appears below. 

(Harrisburg)-- Democratic Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania says he'll vote against a bill reflecting President Donald Trump's demand for border wall funding in exchange for temporary protections for some immigrants.

Casey, speaking Wednesday in suburban Harrisburg, said he supports a bill already passed by the Democratic-controlled House to reopen the government through Feb. 8.

It doesn't allow money for a border wall.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell scheduled the two votes for Thursday, a day before some 800,000 federal workers could miss a second paycheck.

Casey says the first priority should be reopening the federal government. He also says Trump should tell the truth about effective border security and that a border wall shouldn't be confused with border security when most drugs and bad actors get in through ports of entry.

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