Border security addition bolsters immigration reform prospects in Senate
The prospects for immigration reform in the Senate got a big boost this week when negotiators led by Senators Bob Corker (R-TN) and John Hoeven (R-ND) reached an agreement this week with “Gang of Eight” members on a border security provision that should result in the bill drawing greater Republican support.
Border security has been the flashpoint in recent weeks for comprehensive immigration reform. Efforts by conservative immigration reform opponents, like Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), to add provisions that would require border security benchmarks be met before any pathway to citizenship, were defeated. Instead of a border security benchmark, the Corker-Hoeven agreement calls for $30 billion in new border security funding, something being referred to as a “border surge.”
Proponents of comprehensive immigration now believe they could get 70 votes in the Senate, a threshold they hope will put additional pressure on the House of Representatives to move a comprehensive bill.
Immigration reform in the House
While the prospects for comprehensive immigration reform improved dramatically in the Senate this week, prospects in the House remain much dimmer.
There had been hope among supporters that House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) would abandon the so-called Hastert rule and allow comprehensive immigration reform to move forward without the support of the majority of the GOP caucus. However, this week, Boenhner announced that he would not bring any immigration bill to the floor that lacked the support of the majority of his conference, and said that the House Judiciary Committee should conclude its work on piecemeal immigration legislation by the July 4 recess.
CBO says immigration reform would reduce the deficit
While opponents of immigration reform – like the conservative Heritage Foundation – have claimed that immigration reform would cost billions of dollars, the actual score of the Senate bill by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) shows a much different picture.
The CBO report estimates in the first decade immigration reform would decrease the federal budget deficit by $197 billion as a result of the new workers in the workforce. Over the next decade, CBO estimates the deficit reduction would be even greater — an estimated $700 billion.
Supporters of the comprehensive immigration bill in the Senate immediately pounced on the finding to push back against critics. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), one of the leaders of the bipartisan "Gang of Eight" that drafted the bill said the CBO report, “debunks the idea that immigration reform is anything other than a boon to our economy.”
House rejects farm bill
It is rare that the Speaker of the House brings a bill to the floor and that bill fails to garner the votes for passage. This week, however, that is exactly what happened to Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and the farm bill.
By a vote of 195 to 234, the farm bill failed, as 62 Republicans joined all but 24 Democrats in voting against the measure. Speaker Boehner encountered a perfect storm of political opposition to the bill. Conservatives, led by outside groups like the Club for Growth, railed against the bill and urged its defeat. Conservatives argued that deeper cuts needed to be made to the bill, particularly to the SNAP program (better known as the food stamp program).
While conservatives urged deeper cuts, Democrats opposed the bill because of those exact cuts. Indeed, it was two amendments that passed on the floor, one cutting dairy subsidies and one implementing work requirements for the SNAP program, that finally reduced the number of Democrats willing to support the bill to a number insufficient to overcome Republican defections.
It is unclear what is next for the farm bill. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) suggested a cooling off period for “healing” before taking the issue up again.
Senate sets spending levels
On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted along party lines to move ahead with a spending plan that sets spending levels at $1.058 trillion – a number that is $91 billion higher than the spending levels set by the Republican controlled House.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) said, “I am not willing to accept that sequester is the new normal.”
The vote sets the stage for a confrontation with the House not only on the amount of spending, but also on where the money goes. The House passed– budget adds tens of billions of dollars to the defense budget at the expense of domestic discretionary program spending – something the Senate plan does not do.
President Obama puts climate change back in spotlight
In a speech in Berlin, Germany this week, President Obama put the issue of climate change back into the spotlight, referring to it as “the global threat of our time.”
The Obama speech comes as the White House, unable to get Congress to move legislation on the issue, prepares for a series of executive actions to combat global climate change.
Heather Zichal, President Obama’s deputy assistant on energy and climate change, said this week that executive action will include bolstering energy efficiency, expanding clean energy on public lands, and using various “tools” -- including the Clean Air Act -- to address climate.
It is also expected that the Obama administration, in a break with previous efforts, will seek not only to regulate new energy-producing facilities, but also regulate existing facilities – a move that will spark significant opposition, especially from coal rich areas of the country.
It is expected that President Obama will take action over the summer, possibly as early as next month.
Obama taps comey to head FBI
This week, President Obama formally nominated James Comey to be the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI). Comey is a former Justice Department official under George W. Bush and is a registered Republican. Comey served as both a U.S. attorney and Deputy Attorney General in the Bush administration.
Alaska: Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, a Republican, announced Tuesday that he would make a bid for Democratic Sen. Mark Begich's seat. Treadwell's entry into the race gives Republicans a potentially strong candidate in a deeply red state.
2016: Because it is never too early
Sen. Claire McCaskill’s announcement that she’ll support former Secretary of State and former First Lady Hillary Clinton is just the latest sign of the obvious: Clinton is as good as running for president in 2016. The McCaskill announcement is also significant because she was one of the most prominent female supporters of Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008.
A look ahead:
Wednesday, June 26 -- The House Financial Services Committee will hold a full committee hearing on Too Big to Fail, perspectives of past and present Federal Reserve Bank presidents at 10:00 a.m. in 2128 Rayburn.
Monday, June 24 -- The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a full committee markup to vote on the nominations of Howard Shelanski to be administrator of the Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs and Daniel Tangherlini to be administrator of the General Services Administration at 5:30 p.m. in S-216, U.S. Capitol.
Washington by the numbers
50 - The number of potential terrorist attacks that the National Security Agency’s PRISM surveillance program has thwarted since September 11, 2001, NSA Director Keith Alexander said Tuesday.
“The immigration bill is more than a thousand pages long. That doesn’t sound like an immigration bill. That sounds like a menu at The Cheesecake Factory.” -- Late Night’s Jimmy Fallon
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