Border Security: The Type of Spending Republicans Like


Democrats like big government and spending. Republicans do not. We know that because Republicans have told us over and over.

But it's pretty clear things aren't that simple.

Republicans are actually fine with government expansion and increased spending, as long as it's devoted to things like military or border security. It's the entitlement programs that get them worked up.

We saw a couple of great examples this week with the debates over high-profile agriculture and immigration bills.

Let's start with the farm bill, which was defeated in the House on Thursday.

The farm bill is a huge piece of legislation that gets passed every five years or so. There are lots of nods to special interests in the legislation; this year's version was projected to cost $940 billion over 10 years.

Food stamps and nutrition programs for low-income families are the biggest expense in the bill, clocking in at $743.9 billion. Republicans didn't like that.

When the bill was on the floor in the House yesterday, Republicans decided it wasn't palatable, and tacked on an amendment that would have allowed states to increase the work requirements needed to receive food stamps.

The amendment was a so-called "poison pill" for Democrats, who wouldn't vote for the bill. It was defeated 234 to 195, with only 24 Democrats supporting it.

You could say that was a victory for fiscal conservatives: They repelled a huge amount of new government spending, even though much of it would have gone to feeding hungry Americans.

Now let's look at immigration reform.

A bill to revamp the country's immigration system is currently being debated in the Senate. It is expected to pass that house of Congress, since it has had the support of most Democrats and a half-dozen Republicans.

But the bill's sponsors wanted more Republicans on board, to give the legislation some momentum heading into the GOP-controlled House of Representatives.

To gain conservative support, the "Gang of Eight" that drafted the bill made a deal with two Republican senators to add more security on the U.S.-Mexico border. The deal would double the size of Border Patrol, increasing its staff from 21,394 agents last year to 40,000.

The extra border agents alone would add $30 billion to the cost of the immigration bill. After that, the bill would mandate at least $12.5 billion to build a border fence and create a border security plan, with the possibility for more spending if certain benchmarks aren't met down the road.

Those dollar amounts aren't so crazy in the larger picture. Nonpartisan analysts say the immigration bill would actually make money by collecting new revenue from immigrants and their employers, slashing the federal deficit by upwards of a trillion dollars over 20 years. So there's room to add some costs.

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