Morning Action: President Obama Throws Support Behind Gang of Eight Amnesty Bill
IMMIGRATION. The Senate will vote on the Gang of Eight immigration bill Tuesday. Apparently, “border security will figure prominently in the debate,” but the bill does not secure the border before granting amnesty to 11 million or more illegal immigrants (sub. req’d):
The Senate takes its first vote Tuesday on the comprehensive immigration bill drafted by the chamber’s Gang of Eight. Border security will figure prominently in the debate, as it did during the measure’s three-week markup in the Judiciary Committee. Republicans are trying to make the citizenship process for undocumented immigrants contingent on strict new measurements for controlling the border, detailed in an amendment by John Cornyn, R-Texas. The amendment also would boost funding for border protection efforts by $1 billion a year over six years and authorize 10,000 new border agents over five years. Though Democrats are expected to reject it, CQ reporters David Harrison and Humberto Sanchez are watching if they give in on other GOP demands in order to secure a filibuster-proof majority in support of the bill. The House last week issued a reminder there’s still deep-seated opposition to relaxing immigration laws in some quarters of Congress, when it adopted an appropriations amendment that would bar the Obama administration from halting the deportation of some young undocumented immigrants.
Heritage points out that in the midst of the myriad Obama administration scandals, President Obama is using the amnesty bill as a distraction. He stated that anyone who stands in the way of his immigration agenda is just trying to “stoke fear and create division.”
The Obama Administration has a few problems. From Benghazi to the IRS to the phone records of journalists and everyday Americans, it’s not difficult to call up a scandal with investigations pending in Washington.
So immigration reform makes for a nice distraction.
The House is also working on its version of immigration reform:
The speaker wants House committees — Judiciary has primary jurisdiction — to wrap up their work on a version of immigration legislation before the July 4 recess. And he would like immigration reform to see a House vote before Congress breaks in August.
His goal is to begin moving either bite-size immigration bills or the bipartisan House immigration group’s legislation through committees before the Senate passes its bill, which could happen by the end of this month. The Senate Gang of Eight plan is on the Senate floor this week and is expected to get a vote before the July 4 recess.
FARM BILL. Senate farm and food stamp bill leaders are hoping for a “robust” majority on the bill’s final passage. They believe this will give them more leverage later on when they try to argue that the compromise bill between the House and Senate should look more like the Senate’s five-year bill. (sub. req’d):
The Senate vote on passage of the farm bill Monday offers a last opportunity at messaging for Senate Agriculture Committee leaders who are looking ahead to negotiations with the House.
If they can secure 60 or more votes, Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow and ranking member Thad Cochran will have a stronger hand in arguing that a compromise bill should be closer to the Senate five-year legislation (S 954). Stabenow, D-Mich., and Cochran, R-Miss., will note the significance of getting 60 votes in chamber where a supermajority is increasingly necessary to defeat procedural challenges that can stall or kill legislation. They won a June 6 cloture vote to end debate with a 75-22 vote. The House farm bill is expected to reach the floor later this month, possibly the week of June 17.
The Senate also signaled SNAP, which provides food benefits to more than 46 million people a year, is unlikely to escape reductions. Lawmakers voted down an amendment by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., that would have substituted cuts to the nutrition program with cuts to federal payments made to private crop insurance companies.
SNAP is expected to be a contentious issue when the House farm bill reaches the floor.
Collin C. Peterson, ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, told the National Grange, an agricultural group, last week that his caucus was divided over the bill’s (HR 1947) proposed reductions of $20.5 billion to SNAP over 10 years. Many are concerned by the legislation’s tightening of eligibility standards so that only people receiving cash aid through the federal welfare program, federal disability program or state assistance programs would qualify for SNAP.
The legislation would end states’ flexibility ability to use broader eligibility income and asset rules for people such as the working poor whose gross income exceeds 130 percent of poverty, but whose disposable income is below the federal poverty line, to qualify for SNAP benefits. Opponents of the change say nearly 2 million people will lose eligibility under the House proposal
Many conservative Republicans want much larger cuts to SNAP and may not support the farm bill, Peterson said.
The farm bill and food stamps should be separated so that both farm policy and food stamp policy can be properly reformed. The Senate’s trillion-dollar bill fails to do this, making it a massive burden to taxpayers.
STUDENT LOANS. Federal student loan rates are set to double on July 1, before which Congress hopes to approve a “solution” on student loan policy. There is no agreement on how student loan interest rates should be dealt with or paid for. Some argue for a more “market-based” approach, while Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) wants the interest rate to remain the same at 3.4 percent (sub. req’d):
The House on May 23 passed a GOP bill (HR 1911) that would switch to a market-driven variable interest rate, pegged to the 10-year Treasury note rate, plus 2.5 percent for the subsidized and unsubsidized portion of the Stafford loan and plus 4.5 percent for graduate loans. Those rates would be capped at 8.5 percent and 10.5 percent, respectively, and would be calculated yearly.
The Congressional Budget Office scored the House bill as saving $3.7 billion over 10 years, which the proposal directs to pay down the deficit. The White House has threatened to veto the House bill for creating uncertainty for students and for using the savings to pay down the deficit, as opposed to going back into the student loan program.
Meanwhile, the Senate on Thursday refused to proceed with debate on two different measures. Senators rejected cloture, 51-46, on a bill (S 953) sponsored by Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., that would extend the current 3.4 percent fixed interest rate on subsidized loans for two years. The proposal, which the CBO estimates would cost $8.3 billion, would be paid for by closing three tax loopholes.
Senators also rejected cloture, 40-57, on a bill (S 1003) sponsored by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., that would peg interest rates to the 10-year Treasury note rate plus 3 percent for subsidized, unsubsidized and graduate loans. The rate would be fixed for the life of a borrower’s loan and there is no cap.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he isn’t interested in compromising on a market-based solution. On Thursday, Reid and other Senate Democratic leaders affirmed their commitment to extending the current 3.4 percent rate, saying it’s the only fix they’ll accept.