President Bush, trying to salvage immigration reform, endorsed a plan Thursday that would lock in money for border security as way to win over conservative lawmakers and a skeptical public.
Bush got behind a proposal to earmark money from immigration fees and penalties to be channeled to tougher border security and workplace enforcement. Two Republican senators, John Kyl of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, have proposed such an amendment.
"We're going to show the American people that the promises in this bill will be kept," Bush said in a speech to the Associated Builders and Contractors.
Bush said the measure would "show the American people that we're going to do our jobs of securing this border once and for all."
The provision would immediately divert $4.4 billion toward border security, with that amount to be paid back once new fees are in place. The point would be to ensure that border security would not be subject to the whims of the yearly budget negotiations.
The move is also part of a White House effort to cobble together a winning coalition, vote by vote. Some lawmakers are withholding support for the broad-based bill because of deep skepticism that border security will actually improve.
With many questions unanswered, it was unclear how much of a concession the move amounts to for Bush.
The White House did not have an estimate of how much money the provision would generate yearly toward border security. It also could not say whether the money would be in addition to currently planned border security levels or just a way to dedicate funds to that purpose. And it wasn't clear what budget account would be drawn down to pay for the initial $4.4 billion.