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This Week In Washington: Senate to Take Up Sandy Relief Bill and Immigration Reform Plan Introduced by New 'Gang of Six


Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., left, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.. Graham and McCAin are 2 of 6 Senators behind a bipartisan plan on Immigration Reform Introduced this week.(Credit: AP) 

After quickly slipping through a debt ceiling increase, the House is out of session once again. The Senate is likely to pass that bill along with the House-passed Sandy pork bill.  The real action this week will take place off the floor and Republican Senators, led by Marco Rubio and John McCain, plan to unveil and repackage the McCain-Kennedy amnesty bill of 2006. Conservatives must be prepared to inject some sanity into the debate by raising some serious social, fiscal, and national security concerns that will arise from the impending plan.

Sandy Relief Bill: Late Monday afternoon, the Senate will take up the $50.5 billion Sandy relief package that passed the House two weeks ago.  On January 15, the House passed H.R. 152 with more than 75% of Republicans voting against it.  As we noted at the time, this bill is full of liberal pork projects that are completely extraneous to the relief effort.  Moreover, according to the CBO, only 30% of the funds will be spent over the next 20 months, a clear indication that this is primarily not an “emergency relief package.”  Remember this is on top of the $9.7 billion in flood insurance expansion that already passed both houses at the beginning of the year. None of the spending is offset by cuts elsewhere in government.

The Senate will first vote on an amendment by Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) to offset the new spending with across-the-board discretionary cuts.  While most Republicans will back this effort, it will fall well short of the 60 votes needed to amend the bill. The underlying bill appears to have the votes to easily sail through the Senate, as only a handful of conservatives have committed to opposing it.  To put this in perspective, the entire $60.4 billion in new un-offset spending will wipe out all new revenue projected to come into the Treasury this year as a result of the Obama/McConnell tax increases.  It also approaches the size of the $72 billion in sequester cuts that are set to go in effect this year.  This is why we never truly cut spending.

Debt Ceiling:  Last week, the House passed a bill to suspend the debt ceiling law through May 18. This was essentially a clean debt limit increase with a requirement that both houses agree to pass a budget for fiscal year 2014 – any budget.  Last week, we discussed some of the concerns about this approach going forward.

The Senate will likely vote on the House bill some time later this week. It will receive support from most of the Democrats, including Harry Reid, and at least half of Republicans. Obama has already agreed to sign the bill into law.  Welcome to the 10th episode of ‘kick the can down the road’ over the past 2 years.

There is also an important observation that must be made concerning the deadline of the next debt limit increase. Many supporters of the House-passed bill claimed that by suspending the debt limit until May 18, instead of merely increasing the ceiling by a certain amount, Republicans would gain leverage by dictating the deadline, instead of Obama’s Treasury Department making up some arbitrary crisis date.  However, that assumption appears to be false. According to the Bipartisan Policy Center, the Treasury would still have the ability to employ “extraordinary measures,” effectively extending the deadline to as late as the end of July. As such, Obama will indeed have the ability to set the final date of the “crisis” moment.

Immigration: Although no official legislative language of an amnesty bill will be on the floor this week, there will be a lot of activity on the immigration front. There has been a bipartisan Gang of 6 (yes, I know what you’re thinking) working behind the scenes for months to craft an amnesty bill. Senators McCain, Graham, and Rubio (with Rubio taking the most visible role) are slated to announce the details of their plan that was negotiated in secret with Democrat Senators Schumer, Durbin, and Menendez (the guy who just employed an illegal immigrant intern). John Boehner has also confirmed that there is a similar working group in the House, which likely includes Paul Ryan (R-Wis), Raul Labrador (R-ID), and Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), among others.

While there is much pomp and hype in anticipation of the details, there is nothing new about their plan.  This is essentially the same deal as the 2006/07 McCain-Kennedy amnesty bills.

Almost every illegal would be entitled to a work visa. Once granted the work visa, they would be set on a path toward a green card if they pay a fine, learn English (whatever that means), and pay back taxes (as if most of them earn enough to accrue a net positive tax liability). They would eventually be able to become citizens with voting rights without ever having to return home.

Additionally, the 2-3 million children of those who immigrated illegally would be set on a fast-track path to citizenship under the rough guidelines of the DREAM Act.  The bill will likely pave the road for a massive increase of legal immigration for both high AND low skilled immigrants. Moreover, the plan would call for a number of enforcement mechanisms that are already on the books but not enforced. There will be no precondition that the border is sealed, E-Verify is implemented, and a visa tracking system is put in place before the amnesty is granted.

Unfortunately, there is a wide bifurcation between the way this proposal is being sold to conservative audiences and the reality of what Democrats plan to do with it.  Even those of us who would be willing to accede to some sort of amnesty must demand that certain guidelines are followed.  Please read my primer on those concerns, and be prepared for the fight of our lives for the future of our Republic.


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