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Senator to pitch nearly $1 billion plan to fight fentanyl trafficking

Murphy releases the proposal ahead of a spending panel hearing on the southwest border issue

Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., is seen in the Capitol.
Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., is seen in the Capitol. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Sen. Christopher S. Murphy will release a budget proposal Tuesday that would provide nearly $1 billion in next fiscal year’s government funding bill to fight fentanyl trafficking across the southwest border.

The Connecticut Democrat, who is chairman of the Appropriations Committee’s Homeland Security panel, released details of the plan ahead of the subcommittee’s scheduled hearing Wednesday related to the issue.

Murphy said through a spokesperson that the proposal “would help build upon the bipartisan success we achieved in last year’s spending package.”

“As we return to regular order in our appropriations process, I hope this serves are a starting point for a substantive debate on how best to stem the flow of fentanyl,” Murphy said.

Roughly half of the funding would aim to expand the ability of border officers to inspect more passenger vehicles entering the country via the U.S.-Mexico border and to improve officers’ ability to seize profits from drug sales leaving the U.S., according to a six-page proposal provided by Murphy’s office.

These funds would be spent to hire more Customs and Border Protection officers and purchase more non-intrusive inspection systems, with a goal to inspect 65 percent of passenger vehicles crossing the border, up from 40 percent.

Murphy also aims to build on current funding and establish permanent outbound inspection operations at an additional six ports of entry to seize currency, firearms or other profits by transnational criminal organizations.

Another $300 million would be spent improving existing inspections systems and developing artificial intelligence to improve inspections at the border. Other tranches of funding would boost Homeland Security Investigation, the unit that investigates transnational crime, and improve the department’s analytics system.

The proposal would also ensure that Homeland Security investigators “have the appropriate statutory authority to prioritize narcotics investigations at the border,” the proposal states.

An Appropriations subcommittee hearing set for Wednesday afternoon will focus on combating transnational criminal organizations and other trafficking and will feature testimony from officials with CBP and HSI.

A congressional aide who briefed reporters Monday on the condition of anonymity said Murphy’s goal with the proposal is to accelerate “investments that have proven to have an impact on fighting back against the cartels profiting off the destruction caused by fentanyl.”

Increasing numbers of deaths by fentanyl poisoning in recent years has driven heated rhetoric on Capitol Hill, but also calls from lawmakers from both parties to address the issue.

Republican lawmakers have tied the issue to rising levels of migration at the southwest border, which could complicate efforts boost funding for the issue.

But another aide on the call with reporters signaled that funding to combat transnational criminal organizations may be bipartisan.

The aide said the proposal was developed by Murphy, but has been shared with Democratic leadership as well as with Sen. Katie Britt of Alabama, the top Republican on the Homeland Security spending panel, and her staff. The aide said they believe “this is a proposal that Democrats and Republicans can get behind.”

Britt said through a spokesperson that there “is no doubt that we have an unprecedented border crisis and fentanyl crisis across America.” She also criticized the Biden administration for proposing a 1 percent cut to DHS in its fiscal 2024 budget request.

“I am hopeful that my colleagues will join me in working to fund all of the Department’s key missions that are critical to protecting our homeland and keeping Americans safe,” Britt said.

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