House GOP leaders Friday night finally pushed through passage of border funding legislation and a bill changing deportation policies, a one-chamber messaging approach that in the end may speak louder about lawmakers’ inability to ever write a workable bill that Congress as a whole can pass.
The 223-189 adoption of a $694 million supplemental spending measure came mostly along party lines, and only after both it and the second measure demanded by some harder-line members took significant rewriting. Planned votes on earlier versions Thursday had been abruptly scrapped because neither had enough support.
Four Republicans voted against it: Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Walter Jones of North Carolina, Stephen Fincher of Tennessee, and Paul Broun of Georgia. (Paul Gosar of Arizona was a no, but changed his vote.) Henry Cuellar of Texas was the only Democrat to cross party lines and support it.
The revisions incorporated Friday included hiking spending from the original $659 million bill by $35 million. The added money would double to $70 million federal reimbursements to states for National Guard activities related to U.S.-Mexico border security and dealing with the tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors surging there from Central America.
The House then approved the second revised bill, intended to rein in President Obama’s discretionary authority to defer deportations. That measure passed 216-192, with 11 Republicans crossing the aisle to oppose it and four Democrats voting in favor. Rep. Daniel Lipinski, D-Ill., voted present.
As a package, the two House measures are a far cry from the $3.7 billion border-crisis response that Obama gave to Congress earlier this month to deal with the crisis.
In fact, both of those bills in their initial versions already had been tailored for tea-party members and other conservatives, yet many of those same lawmakers still rejected them on Thursday and demanded changes.
That lack of support, and need to abruptly pull the bills, represented an embarrassment for Speaker John Boehner and his leadership team. That included new Majority Whip and top Republican vote-counter/enforcer Steve Scalise, who has depicted himself as a needed leadership bridge to conservatives only to see work on his first bills unravel.
The Senate will not take up either measure — a $2.7 billion Senate bill was blocked Thursday by Republicans and that chamber has since adjourned for its summer recess.
“At least the House is putting a bill on the floor and passing it … but the Senate is gone. It left,” Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers said on the House floor, adding: “I hope the leader of the Senate would realize that his body is getting severely criticized for leaving town.”
The House bill only allocates funds through Sept. 30, which is the last day of Fiscal Year 2014. Rogers acknowledged Congress won’t be in session much more before than, thus making the chances of a compromise between the two chambers rather unlikely.
“I never give up on hope, but it’s pretty slim,” he said.
Obama reiterated Friday that he would be sure to veto the legislation anyhow, saying House Republicans are “trying to pass the most extreme and unworkable versions of a bill that they already know is going nowhere.”
But Boehner cast the blame back across the aisle.
“If President Obama needs these resources,” Boehner said in a statement after the bill passed, “he will urge Senate Democrats to put politics aside, come back to work, and approve our bill. There are also steps the president can take to address this crisis within the law, and without further legislative action. Every day the president and his party fail to act is another day this crisis continues.”
In fact, Boehner, his GOP leadership team, border-area Republicans, and other members wanted to be able to say to constituents over the recess that they, at least, had taken some action to deal with the crisis. The House was to begin its recess after Friday night’s votes.
And some Republicans during the floor debates leading up to the votes Friday night were making a point that they at least stuck around Washington on Friday to get their bills passed — delaying the start of their five-week summer recess — while the Senate left town without passing a response to the border crisis.
“Because we are working today — somehow we are dysfunctional? That’s an absurdity,” said Rep. David Jolly, R-Fla. “What’s dysfunctional is the other side of this Capitol, and the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.”
But Obama described the two measures as merely “partisan message bills on partisan lines that don’t actually solve problems.” And Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi complained that House Republicans “have lost their way” and missed an opportunity for compromise.
Along with the added spending for National Guard activities, tweaks from the initial Thursday versions were also made to the portion of the supplemental bill addressing a 2008 anti-trafficking law, which has been a key sticking point for House Republicans.
The new language still requires Central American children to be offered voluntary removal after crossing the border, just like those from contiguous countries. However, about 16 pages of the initial emergency supplemental were gutted, slimming down the bill’s procedural language to mirror one authored by Rep. John Carter, R-Texas.
Significant revisions also were made to the second measure dealing with Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — which House GOP leaders had extended as a carrot to conservatives like Sen. Ted Cruz who want to repeal the program to gain their support on the supplemental spending.
The changes returned more muscular language pulled from earlier legislation authored by Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn. As it stood Thursday, that bill would have prohibited the administration and any federal agency from issuing “guidance, memorandums, regulations, policies, or other similar instruments” to “newly authorize deferred action” for undocumented immigrants.
But the original version as written by sponsor Blackburn was tougher, in that it prohibited specific types of funding and such things as denying any undocumented immigrants on probation temporary permission to work in the country. That language has been returned.
The Blackburn bill also specifically prohibits the administration from spending any funds on new applications for DACA. Thursday’s bill included no such provision.
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