The Senate will continue its deliberations this week on immigration reform, including a key vote today on a border-security amendment that runs more than 1,000 pages. The amendment dropped on Friday, which means that Senators spent the last 48 hours closely perusing the text. Right? Er, not exactly:
Democratic senator Ben Cardin admitted that he won’t be able to get through all of the Corker-Hoeven amendment, though the Senate is set to vote on it Monday afternoon. The bill, which runs nearly 1,200 pages, is seen as a virtual rewrite of the Gang of Eight’s legislation, aimed at strengthening border security measures to bring more Republicans on board.
“I can’t tell you I’ll read every word,” Cardin said over the weekend. The Maryland senator added that he “already read a great part of the bill,” and will “closely scrutinize” any changes to border security.
Bob Corker sent out a statement yesterday that only 119 pages are new material, though. Much of the amendment replaces text in the original bill with identical language:
“I’ve seen reports of a ‘1,200 page bill’ no one has read or had time to read.
To be clear, the tough border and interior enforcement provisions that Senator Hoeven and I offered on Friday make up 119 pages added to the 1,100 pages that have been public since May,” said Senator Corker.
He said the Hoeven-Corker amendment “mandates an unprecedented surge of security at the southern border, implements tough interior enforcement to curb de facto amnesty, and helps prevent abuse of federal benefits.”
He also said he wanted to “clarify misleading reports that Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano would not be required to build an additional 350 miles of fencing along the southern U.S. border under the Hoeven-Corker Border Security amendment:”
Senator Corker said, “I don’t know how to make it any clearer. If the Hoeven-Corker amendment becomes law, 10 years must pass and there must be 700 miles of pedestrian fencing and 20,000 additional border patrol agents along the southern border before a Green Card is issued to those with RPI status. Reports that say otherwise are misleading.”
Will that matter? Not according to National Journal’s Fawn Johnson, who declares immigration reform dead for the year no matter what happens this week in the Senate. The House isn’t even close to having a bill to even debate much less take a vote to approve, and the calendar suggests the lower chamber never will:
After senators get the bill done – probably in time to make their weekend barbeques — they have a weeklong July 4 break. And then they get to wait for colleagues on the other side of the Capitol who will have four weeks – four weeks – to deliberate before Congress takes off for an even lengthier recess in August. Once Washington meets autumn, immigration falls off the priority track thanks to the reemergence of fiscal crisis.
The House Judiciary Committee has yet to tackle the most difficult issues on immigration—what to do with the current undocumented population and how to handle the future flow of low-skilled immigrants. There are no signs that the committee is working on any such bills. We don’t know who would sponsor them or, on the off chance that someone actually puts pen to paper, that such measures could even get out of committee.
What about the House floor? The best hope for the immigration legislation to continue moving forward would be an “immigration week” in the House in July, in which members vote on several different bills to set up a far more conservative proposal than the solution posed in the Senate.
That means there will be no companion bill to match up against the Senate’s immigration reform before the recess. What happens when everyone returns in September? Congress has to face the debt-ceiling issue and pass a budget, which will be all the more complicated because of the coming ObamaCare mandates:
When lawmakers return to the Capitol in September, they will be facing another financial crisis as they debate raising the country’s debt ceiling. The four- to six-week countdown toward extreme limitations on government payments to Social Security or military operations will do two things: It will suck all the life out of any deliberative legislative effort, immigration included, and it will polarize the political parties. It will be far from fertile ground for the biggest immigration overhaul in 30 years.
There are two ways in which this gets bypassed. One is for John Boehner to simply put the Senate bill up for a floor vote, but his GOP colleagues would strongly resist that — regardless of whether it would pass or fail. Either way, it creates risk for Republicans, and they’d be better off developing their own version for Boehner to float. The other is to pass a more conservative comprehensive bill and throw it to a conference committee, but the House is so far away from that possibility (as Johnson points out) that it would have to be a shell bill.
The situation in the House may well impact the results in the Senate. Republicans in conservative states may decide that it’s not worth the trouble to support the Gang of Eight if the political damage doesn’t produce anything at the end of the process, while Republicans in moderate states may well jump on the bandwagon without fear that their vote will matter much in the end except on scorecards.