Amnesty: Dangers of Conference

Conservatives have expressed strong concern about going to conference with the Senate-passed amnesty bill.   National Review explains their concerns are justifiable.

Broadly, going to conference means losing control of the legislation – meaning pro-amnesty lawmakers will gain control.  Even under the best case scenario, House conservatives trying to steer away from amnesty will be a distinct minority on any conference committee. They’d be pared with pro-amnesty Democrats from the House and Senate and pro-amnesty Republicans in the Senate.  The deck would be stacked to deliver an amnesty plan that closely resembles the Senate’s Gang of Eight bill.   

Passing an immigration bill – no matter how narrow – in the House would be dangerous because it could lead to a conference committee:

It’s relatively easy to do — assuming the House passes its own immigration reform package. Either chamber could initiate a conference by taking up the other side’s bill, agreeing to dismiss it, and requesting a conference. It is typically a multi-step process to start a conference, but the House could accomplish much of it simply by passing a rule by majority vote — meaning the rule could pass with mostly Democratic support (it would need a handful of Republicans to sign on). There is no limit to the number of conferees House and Senate leaders could appoint, although the majority parties would have greater representation. In the Senate, the appointment of conferees can be subject to multiple filibusters, but that is unlikely to be a factor on the immigration bill, given that the Gang of Eight’s bill passed with 68 votes.

Similarly, Dan Holler warned similar concerns exist with the farm bill:

We know this farm-only farm bill is headed to a conference with the Senate-passed farm bill.  What we don’t know is what product will emerge from the conference.  If history is any indication, we know the final product will be very appealing to big-government liberals and appalling to conservatives who should be trying to reduce the size and scope of government.

NRO outlined a number of additional things that could go wrong before conference and during a conference.

The blue-slip challenge could occur.  This means that the House Republicans could dispense with the bill by pointing out that – since the bill raises revenue, something only the House can constitutionally do – it is unconstitutional.  The House may have to deal with a discharge petition from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to force a vote on the bill.  “Nervous” House Republicans could insist on a preconference agreement which would be non-binding, and hence, unhelpful.  The House could pass a rule stipulating that every bill that gets majority support (218 votes) will be merged together – according to themerger rule – as the official House position on immigration.  This bill could then go to conference with leadership approval.  There could be an informal conference, which basically means folks in the Senate could sneakily persuade House members to negotiate a compromise.

If this process is long and drawn out, there could be a calendar squeeze.  If Congress is in its final six days of a session (i.e., after Christmas), it does not have to abide by the rule that a conference report must be available for at least three legislative days.  Members would then vote on a conference report no one has read. (Sound familiar? Obamacare.)  If the conference committee runs longer than 10 legislative days or 20 calendar days, House rules allows any lawmaker to force at least one vote per day on motions to instruct the conference, which though unbinding, could put Republicans in a difficult political position.

And there’s this whopper: Once a conference report is taken up in each chamber, it is considered a privileged motion, meaning that it cannot be amended.  And a conference committee need only have one meeting open to the public.  This process is doesn’t benefit conservatives; it benefits those who favor the big-government status quo that has dominated Washington for decades.

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