MEMO: Reid has Few Good Options on Immigration

To: Interested Parties
From: Heritage Action for America
Date: December 1, 2014
Subject: Senate has Limited Options in Responding to House-passed Funding Bill (PDF Link)

Lawmakers have just ten days to craft a government spending bill and a response to President Obama’s recently announced changes to our nation’s immigration laws.  As incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell noted, the two issues are inextricably connected because “The only tool we have is the power of the purse.”

The Republican-controlled House could — and should — pass a bill that funds the government while blocking the President’s executive actions on immigration.  Doing so would not only signal House Republicans are delivering on their election mandate, but also provide an opportunity to the growing number of Senate Democrats publicly opposed to the plan to back up their rhetoric with real action.

Short of accepting the House’s restrictions, outgoing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is left with three basic choices: block the House-passed bill, pass his own bill or strip the rider from the House-passed bill.  With a united Senate Republican Conference and the aforementioned Democratic opposition, Reid’s chances for success are questionable.

Block the House-passed Bill

In most circumstances, the Senate is required to take multiple votes to proceed to a bill.  Reid could prevent debate and consideration of the House-passed bill by filibustering the “motion to proceed.”  As few as 41 Senators could prevent Senate consideration, though it would be fair to characterize such as vote as prioritizing work permits and Social Security numbers for immigrants who are in the country illegally above all else, including funding of the government.

Even if Reid is successful in blocking consideration of the House-passed bill, the vote itself would be an important benchmark.  And it would not necessarily signal an end to the legislative fight because the Republican-controlled House would not be compelled to pass a new bill simply because Reid demanded such action.  The onus should remain on Reid’s Senate to act to fund the government.

Pass a Senate-crafted Bill

The Senate is under no obligation to consider legislation passed by the House of Representatives, as evinced by the 408 House-passed bills currently awaiting action in the Senate, raising concerns that Reid would simply ignore the House-passed bill.  To blunt the narrative that Senate Democrats are ignoring, filibustering or killing a government funding bill, Reid could attempt to pass a Senate-crafted appropriations measure.

However, cloture (a 60-vote threshold) would need to be invoked on this new bill, which would require the support of at least five Republican Senators.  Given that McConnell has indicated he will support whatever legislation comes over from the House, there is no reason for his Republican colleagues to vote in favor of Reid’s alternative.  If Senate Republicans hold together, they can force Reid not only to consider the House-passed bill, but also to block his attempts to offer a Senate-crafted version of the funding bill that does not include language blocking the President’s executive actions on immigration.

Strip Language from House-passed Bill

If Reid proceeds to the House-passed bill, he could opt to strike the language blocking the President’s executive actions on immigration.  Considering the unlikely nature of wrangling 60 Senators to strike the rider before cloture is invoked on the House-passed bill, Reid could move to strike the language after cloture has been invoked.  Doing so would require 51 votes, meaning Republicans would have to pick up five Democrats to protect the language included by the House. A vote in favor of the motion to strike would be an explicit endorsement of the President’s executive actions.

It is unclear if Reid possesses the necessary votes, making this approach high-risk.  Failing to strip the language would be a political embarrassment for both Reid and the White House, and mean the House-passed bill would only need a final vote (simple majority) before heading to President Obama’s desk.  President Obama, for the first time in his presidency, would be faced with a choice: sign the bill and keep the government running or veto the bill and cause a government shutdown.

Good Policy is Good Politics

Even though details of the President’s plan were scarce, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal Survey found just 38% of Americans support “executive action on immigration.”  We now know the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee begged the President to delay action until after the election, suggesting internal polling found it to be divisive and unpopular.  Additionally, at least six Senate Democrats have voiced opposition since the announcement.  After passing a bill to fund the government and block the President’s executive actions, Republicans will have a clear, concise message:

Message 1: The Republican-controlled House has acted to fund the government, but granting quasi-legal status, work permits and Social Security cards to those who are in the country illegally is unfair to American workers and all of those who are waiting abroad to come to our country legally.  

Message 2: President Obama is threatening to shut down major parts of the government — all because he wanted to give work permits and Social Security numbers to millions who are in this country illegally.  Voters rejected President Obama’s policies in November.  It is time for him to finally listen to the American people.  

Message 3: The Republican-controlled House has acted to fund the government, but Harry Reid is playing games that are stirring fears of a government shutdown.  Does Reid really believe granting work permits and Social Security numbers to immigrants who are in the country illegally is a higher priority than funding the government?

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Obama's misplaced priorities: benefits for illegal immigrants over funding the government.

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