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WASHINGTON – The Obama administration’s proposal to study imposing a fee for crossing the land borders of the United States met a dead end at a congressional committee Wednesday thanks to Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo.

The House Homeland Security Committee, by voice vote, approved Higgins’ amendment blocking the Department of Homeland Security from studying such a border crossing fee, as Republicans and southern-border Democrats joined with Higgins to oppose the idea.

“This is a huge victory for Western New York and other communities across the northern border that rely on the seamless flow of people and goods between the U.S. and Canada to support our economies,” Higgins said. “The fee would have put an unfair burden on residents who frequently travel across the border, and the cost of the proposed study would have taken resources, already stretched thin, away from significantly more critical security needs.”

The committee voted to attach Higgins’ amendment to a larger bill aimed at bolstering border security at both the northern and southern borders.

And while that larger bill, if passed, would likely become part of the larger congressional debate on immigration reform, the bipartisan support Higgins won for his amendment makes it more likely that his measure will survive as the bill moves forward.

Collecting a fee on people crossing the U.S.-Canadian border and the U.S.-Mexican border would be counterproductive, other members of the committee said.

“This kind of a fee would be so chilling on an economy that’s trying to be on the rebound here, as well as a slap in the face to our Canadian friends, allies, neighbors,” said Rep. Candice Miller, R-Mich. “We should be encouraging them to come across the border, not discouraging them.”

The committee’s chairman, Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, also voiced his support for the amendment, as did Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, and Ron Barber, D-Ariz.

Barber said he spent plenty of time in recent weeks talking to small-business owners in his district, “and what they told me is that if you have an opportunity to do something about this fee, do it.”

After the committee vote, Higgins said his amendment, combined with a similar amendment offered by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., which the Senate Judiciary Committee passed last week, would have the combined effect of killing the border fee study.

“It never really had any viability,” Higgins said, adding that the Obama administration only made “a weak attempt” to pass the measure by including it in the president’s fiscal 2014 budget proposal but without any serious follow-up.

The administration never hinted at how much the fee might be or how and when it might be imposed.

By no means did Higgins make a weak effort, though, in fighting for his amendment.

In fact, he sold it to the committee’s Republican majority in terms they would appreciate.

“My amendment would stop the administration from commencing with a study to impose a new tax on the northern border and on northern border job creators.”

Discussing his terminology after the vote, Higgins said: “When you’re trying to get votes from the Republican majority, you have to use a strategy that engages them.”

email: jzremski@buffnews.com