The Senate on Thursday night failed to advance a $2.7 billion bill to address the southern border crisis, just hours after the House Republicans had to pull their own bill from consideration due to a lack of support.
Together, the two votes show just how difficult it will be for Congress to agree not only on how much to spend to resolve the border crisis, but how to spend it.
President Barack Obama proposed a $3.7 billion bill that both parties thought was too much. The House package that was pulled earlier in the day included a bill that would have spent $659 million — and it was pulled for not being tough enough in the eyes of some Republicans.
While the price tag of the Senate bill came in under Obama’s request, Republicans generally opposed it because it would borrow money to meet all of its new obligations. The GOP also said it only treated the symptom — the flood of illegal immigrants — and not the disease — Obama’s ongoing effort to ease immigration rules.
GOP opposition was enough to stop the bill in a procedural vote. Democrats set up a vote to end debate on the bill, which needed the support of 60 senators to advance the bill. But before they got there, Senate Budget Committee ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) raised a budget point of order against the bill, arguing that the bill violates the current budget deal.
Sixty votes were needed to waive that complaint from Sessions, but the Senate voted 50-44 on this matter, essentially sending the Senate back to the drawing board. It wasn’t immediately clear what steps the Senate would take next, although it was expected to leave for the August recess at the end of Thursday.
In the meantime, House Republicans are still hoping to vote on some form of border bill either this week or next week, after dozens of Republicans demanded a vote before they return home for the break. GOP leaders were thought to be working on some new compromise that could get a vote as early as Friday, but could also come in the next few weeks.
In the face of demands from their members, House Republicans tried to call up the smaller funding bill along with legislation that would prevent Obama from expanding any amnesty program similar to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, or DACA. But that wasn’t enough to convince enough Republicans to support the funding bill, which some said would have made it easier for immigrant children to claim asylum.
In the Senate, Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) led the Republican effort on Thursday to include language that would defund any new Obama effort to expand DACA. These two senators said that overhanging threat from Obama would outweigh any attempt to stop the flow of immigrants.
But like so many other bills in the Senate over the last few years, Democrats didn’t give senators a chance to amend the bill. That prohibition led an outraged Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to storm onto the Senate floor and demand that Democrats start allowing real debate and real consideration of amendments on bills.
“Is that a hell of a lot to ask here?” McCain said. “I don’t think so.”
Sessions made an attempt to force Democrats to allow a vote on tougher language, but because Republicans are the minority party, it failed in a 43-52 vote. Sessions warned that failing to add language blocking further amnesty programs from Obama would be a “hammer blow” to millions of unemployed Americans.
“We have the power to block this action,” he said of Obama’s expected policy change. “We have a duty to block that action. We can do that today by supporting my motion here today.”
“The vote we are about to have will be a vote on whether to support the president’s illegal executive amnesty, or to stop it,” he added.
Immediately after the border votes, the Senate quickly approved a House-passed bill to maintain funding for federally funding highway projects. The Senate preferred its own version, but the House rejected it earlier in the day and forced the Senate to accept the House measure.
The Senate also voted to fund efforts to fix the broken Department of Veterans Affairs, by passing the same bill the House approved on Wednesday. The Senate passed the bill 91-3.