This week in Washington, it’s all about deadlines. While the White House ponders extending the deadline to buy health insurance without paying a penalty, the president is pushing Congress to reform the country’s immigration system by the end of this year. As somber-faced contractors behind the glitch-ridden health care website came under a hailstorm of questions from the House on Thursday morning, President Obama was fired up.
“You look fired up to make the next push,” the president told the crowd in the East Room in a booming voice reminiscent of early campaign days. “It is time. Let’s go get it done.”
Flanked by Vice President Joe Biden, Obama said “everybody knows” that the current immigration system in the United States is broken. “It’s not smart; it’s not fair; it doesn’t make sense,” he said. “We have kicked this particular can down the road for too long.”
Obama said the majority of the general public favors immigration reform, and the polls back him up: Three-quarters of Americans believe immigration policy needs a major overhaul, with 35 percent saying it needs to be “completely rebuilt,” according to a Pew poll in May. Another poll a month later showed that 71 percent of Americans believe undocumented immigrants should be allowed to stay in the country, but 77 percent said any legislation that allows that should also boost border security. On this, Democrats and Republicans remain split: The former thinks legal status applications and border improvements can happen at the same time; the latter wants to focus on borders first. This divide is likely to be at the center of policy negotiations in Congress.
That future, at least during the next two months, looks bleak, and the president knows that. “Now, obviously just because something is smart and fair and good for the economy and fiscally responsible and supported by business and labor, the evangelical community and many Democrats and many Republicans, that does not mean that it will actually get done,” Obama said, drawing laughter. “This is Washington, after all.” In other words, if Obama’s deadline isn’t met, it’s going to be because of congressional gridlock.
In Washington, Obama said, some lawmakers are primed to oppose immigration reform legislation, such as the Senate bill passed earlier this year, because of its Democratic support. “I’d remind everybody that my Republican predecessor was also for it when he proposed reforms like this almost a decade ago,” he said, referring to George W. Bush’s immigration proposal in 2007, which is substantively similar to this year’s language.
“There are going to be moment — and there are always moments like this in big efforts at reform — where you meet resistance and the press will declare something dead,” Obama said. “It’s not going to happen, but that can be overcome.” With 2014 drawing closer, the window for talks on immigration reform legislation — let alone passing any — is shrinking. The issue may not be dead yet, but it’s not looking so good.
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"Even if House Republicans manage to get enough members of their party on board with the latest version of their health care bill, they will face another battle in the Senate: whether the bill complies with the chamber’s arcane ... Byrd rule, which stipulates all provisions in a reconciliation bill must affect federal spending and revenues in a way that is not merely incidental." Democrats should have the advantage in that fight, "unless the Senate pulls another 'nuclear option.'”
The House has passed a one-week spending bill that will avert a government shutdown which was set to begin at midnight. Lawmakers now have an extra week to come to a longer agreement which is expected to fund the government through the end of the fiscal year in September. The legislation now goes to the Senate, where it is expected to pass before President Trump signs it.
President Trump’s portrayal of an effort to funnel more Medicaid dollars to Puerto Rico as a "bailout" is complicating negotiations over a continuing resolution on the budget. "House Democrats are now requiring such assistance as a condition for supporting the continuing resolution," a position that the GOP leadership is amenable to. "But Mr. Trump’s apparent skepticism aligns him with conservative House Republicans inclined to view its request as a bailout, leaving the deal a narrow path to passage in Congress."
Democrats in the House are threatening to shut down the government if Republicans expedite a vote on a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, said Democratic House Whip Steny Hoyer Thursday. Lawmakers have introduced a one-week spending bill to give themselves an extra week to reach a long-term funding deal, which seemed poised to pass easily. However, the White House is pressuring House Republicans to take a vote on their Obamacare replacement Friday to give Trump a legislative victory, though it is still not clear that they have the necessary votes to pass the health care bill. This could go down to the wire.