Morning Action: Senate Judiciary Committee Misses Opportunity to Get Immigration Reform Right

AMNESTY.   Last night the Senate Judiciary Committee brought us one step closer to giving amnesty to the 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States (sub. req’d):

After five days of debate, the Senate Judiciary Committee backed a bipartisan immigration overhaul Tuesday evening that would create an incremental path to citizenship for most of the roughly 11 million immigrants living in the United States illegally.

The panel sent the sweeping legislation (S 744) to the full Senate by a 13-5 vote, prompting applause and chants of “Yes we can” from onlookers in the packed committee room. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has said he’ll move to bring the bill to the floor in June.

Republicans Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Jeff Flake of Arizona joined all panel Democrats in support of the measure. Graham and Flake are members of the bipartisan “gang of eight” that crafted the proposal, and Hatch’s support — in committee at least — was cemented earlier in the evening, when the panel tacked on a compromise measure on high-skilled worker visas.

Heritage Action CEO Mike Needham stated:

Yesterday’s vote is further evidence that some in Washington seem intent on repeating the mistakes of the past.  In 1986, Congress granted amnesty to three million people with the promise of enforcement and border security.  Since then the population of illegal immigrants has nearly quadrupled. 

The Senate Judiciary Committee missed an opportunity to get immigration reform right.  America can get the benefits of a reformed immigration system without the costs of amnesty.  The American people deserve a system that works.

KEYSTONE.  Construction of Keystone pipeline would be good for America on several different levels.  Republicans and Democrats alike understand this, though President Obama refuses act.  Fortunately, the House is working to ensure that this project moves forward:

Today, the House of Representatives will consider the Northern Route Approval Act (H.R.3), sponsored by Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE). The Obama administration has been holding up a decision on the Keystone XL Pipeline for an extended period of time, and it is about time the fundamentally sound pipeline should be part of American’s energy equation.  It should be approved.’

The administration has stalled Keystone XL’s construction and have prevented a huge boost to the American energy supply as well as long-term job creation. The legislation before the House would allow this important energy development project to move forward without problematic hurdles from energy obstructionists.

OKLAHOMA.  The Oklahoma tornado has sparked another disaster funding debate (sub. req’d):

Even as emergency personnel continued to search through the debris of Monday’s tornado in Oklahoma, talk on Capitol Hill had turned to the question of paying for the recovery.

The reprise of the offset debate started when CQ Roll Call asked Coburn on Monday about paying for the disaster relief effort. He said he wouldn’t change his view of disaster spending, which has consistently been that there are plenty of spending cuts that can be made to offset the cost of emergency disaster aid.

The question that has come up, as it did with the Sandy aid bill, is how to keep pork out of the bill:

Asked by MSNBC about his opposition to the aid package for recovery from Superstorm Sandy, Sen. James M. Inhofe, R-Okla., called this week’s situation “totally different.”

“They were getting things, for instance, that was supposed to be in New Jersey. They were getting things in the Virgin Islands. They were fixing roads there. They were putting roofs on houses in Washington, D.C.; everybody was getting in and exploiting the tragedy that took place,” Inhofe said. “That won’t happen in Oklahoma.”

However, Inhofe may have to fight off a number of his colleagues to keep a disaster bill clean. Many lawmakers with declared disasters or droughts in the Northeast and Midwest were cut out of the Sandy funding bill and would likely seek to rectify that situation on any emergency funding bill for Oklahoma.

“Pork is in the eye of the beholder and has been for 223 years since the founding of the country,” Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., said in response to Inhofe’s MSNBC appearance.

Another aspect of the debate is whether the Federal Emergency Management Administration has enough funds to respond to the situation and whether emergency spending should be offset:

This time, money exists in the federal coffers that should at least delay a funding crisis. Senate aides say the disaster relief fund for fiscal 2013 still has about $11.6 billion available for urgent needs. However, the start of Atlantic hurricane season is less than two weeks away.

FARM BILL. Yesterday, the Senate rejected efforts to reform the food stamp program in the so-called farm bill (sub. req’d):

The Senate farm bill survived its first major hurdle Tuesday, as supporters beat back dueling proposals to modify the nation’s largest domestic food aid program.

Senators defeated, 40-58, an amendment to the bill (S 954) from Kansas Republican Pat Roberts that would reduce spending on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by limiting the types of low-income benefits that would automatically qualify recipients for the food program.

Moments later, the chamber rejected, 26-70, an amendment from New York Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand that would undo $4 billion in proposed cuts to SNAP written in the bill by limiting certain reimbursements to crop insurance providers.

Roberts argued that his amendment would help “rein in the largest expenditure within the Department of Agriculture’s budget.” His proposal also would have restricted payments made by states under the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program for heating or cooling costs and eliminated awards to states for improvements on administering SNAP.

“We can restore integrity to the SNAP program while providing benefits to those truly in need and save approximately an additional $30 billion,” he said.

But bill proponents argued that the proposed cuts in the amendment would undermine efforts to help individuals who have fallen on hard times.

It is perfectly clear that food stamp program participation has grown excessively and farm policy and food stamp policy must be separated before any real reform can occur.

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Obama has blocked Keystone for long enough. The House is acting to get the project moving.

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