Senate sends last-minute bills to the House before recess
The Senate has left town for a month of campaigning after sending a flurry of last-minute bills for the House to consider Tuesday, when its lawmakers return to Washington for a special one-day session.
Chief among the new items sent to the House is a broadly supported border security measure that reflects President Obama’s request to add 1,500 immigration enforcement agents to the southwestern border.
Immigrant rights groups have dismissed the $600-million package as election-year posturing that will do little to resolve the complex problems of illegal immigration.
The House has not yet agreed to vote on border security, but is considered likely to do so under pressure to show voters that Washington is capable of regulating illegal crossings in light of Arizona’s tough new immigration law.
“It’s just a great package enhancing what we’ve already done,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told reporters Friday, adding that she looks forward “to swift passage.”
House lawmakers have been summoned back to Capitol Hill for the day primarily to pass a $26.1-billion state aid package that would save 138,000 teachers from layoffs and help cover the growing costs of providing healthcare to low-income people as the economy lags.
The state aid is a priority for Obama, as are the border security funds, but calling lawmakers back to Capitol Hill creates an election-year showdown that poses political risks for both parties.
Republicans risk backlash for opposing what they call a bailout for the states — funds that governors from both parties have desperately sought.
Adding the border bill to the agenda could bring one rare moment of bipartisan compromise in an otherwise divisive environment.
The package, approved unanimously by the Senate, would provide 1,000 more border patrol agents, 500 customs and immigration enforcement officials, and unmanned surveillance planes.
It would also bolster the Justice Department’s efforts to prosecute illegal immigrants, among other provisions.
The cost of the bill is offset by substantially increasing the fees on companies that use a visa program to hire foreign workers. A broader House bill won unanimous support in July.
Congress has essentially given up this year on comprehensive immigration legislation that would include a path to citizenship for the roughly 11 million people living in this country illegally, believing it must first secure the borders.
This strategy comes as Republicans and “tea party” activists have opened a new front in the debate by pressing Congress to review citizenship rights under the Constitution’s 14th amendment.
Republicans believe the Civil War-era measure is being wrongly interpreted to provide citizenship to children born in this country to parents here illegally.
“In 1866, they never envisioned this,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said in an interview.
Ken Dilanian of the Washington Bureau contributed to this report.