WASHINGTON (CNN) –
Here we go again. Without taking the time to actually read the legislation they are trying to pass, congress attempts to hurry a bill without understanding the problem.
The Senate passed a critical test vote on the comprehensive immigration reform bill Tuesday by a vote of 67-27.
The highly anticipated vote was on a bipartisan measure designed to strengthen border security in the bill.
The measure includes language echoing most other parts of the legislation as well, which is what made it such a critical test vote on the entire plan that is backed by the Obama administration.
Supporters needed at least 60 votes to move forward with the revised border security provisions, which were drafted partly to boost Republican support for the overall package.
Supporters hoped to win about 70 votes to demonstrate growing bipartisan momentum for the larger proposal as it clears the Democratic-controlled Senate and heads to the GOP-controlled House of Representatives.
Senate leaders are currently on track to hold a final vote on the bill itself before Congress breaks for its July 4 recess at the end of the week.
Among other things, the amendment would require 20,000 more border agents, complete 700 miles of fence along the boundary with Mexico, and deploy $3.2 billion in technology upgrades similar to equipment used by U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The proposal also includes stronger worker eligibility verification standards and border entry-exit controls.
Most immigrants living in the country illegally would be eligible for permanent residency only after the five conditions have been met and verified by the Department of Homeland Security.
GOP Sens. John Hoeven of North Dakota and Bob Corker of Tennessee introduced the compromise amendment last week, saying it incorporated proposals from other senators to try to fix a broken immigration system.
The staunchest critics of the plan produced by the bipartisan “Gang of Eight,” however, remain skeptical.
According to Sen. John McCain, a member of the Senate’s Gang of Eight, criminals will not be legalized under the proposed bipartisan immigration bill.
“Anyone who has committed crimes in this country is going to be deported,” the Arizona Republican declared on the Senate floor last week.
However, as Washington Examiner columnist Byron York recently reported, “the bottom line is an immigrant could have more than three misdemeanor convictions in his background check and still qualify for legalization.”
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said last week that the compromise means “amnesty will occur,” and argued that the Hoeven-Corker amendment was only drafted in reaction to revelations about shortcomings in the original bill.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, announced Monday that he would oppose the Hoeven-Corker changes, declaring that he “cannot support an amendment cobbled together at the eleventh hour that doubles the border patrol without knowing how much it will cost or whether it is even the right strategy.”
“Unfortunately this measure still omits a real trigger or objective measure to see if the proposed strategy is working,” he added. “At a time when the trust deficit with the federal government is so huge, we do not need more promises from the government — we need measurable results.”
Last week, the Senate rejected a measure drafted by Cornyn that would have required much stricter border security standards. Democrats warned that his proposal was a “poison pill” that would have ensured defeat for the entire plan.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the most prominent Republican in the “Gang of Eight,” told CNN’s Dana Bash last week that he understands “why conservatives are upset.”
“They’ve seen all these promises in the past that haven’t been delivered,” Rubio said. But the status quo on immigration “is hurting America,” he added. “And if nothing passes, then this disaster that we have now, that’s what’s going to stay in place.”
New amendment adds jobs bill to Gang of Eight immigration plan
Opponents of the Gang of Eight immigration bill have spent the weekend looking for hard-to-find changes in a piece of legislation that was substantially re-written by the Hoeven-Corker amendment. But there’s one big change that’s right out in the open — impossible to miss, in fact.
The original Gang bill ended with a section designated Title IV, which was headlined REFORMS TO NON-IMMIGRANT VISA PROGRAMS. The Hoeven-Corker version of the bill added a Title V, with the headline JOBS FOR YOUTH. The measure would provide $1.5 billion in the next two years to provide jobs for Americans between the ages of 16 and 24. It was originally pushed by Democratic Sen. Bernard Sanders, who wanted to come to the aid of young workers who were “hard hit by the Wall Street-caused recession.” Now, Sanders says immigration reform will further damage youth job prospects.
In the few days of Senate debate over the Gang of Eight bill, Sanders delivered several floor speeches that were almost bitterly critical of the legislation’s economic effects. The bill will cost jobs and reduce the standard of living of millions of low-skilled Americans, Sanders argued. His was the most vocal and persistent criticism of the bill from the left.
So how to make him happy, or at least less unhappy, with the legislation? Allow him to put in a few features of his own. A press release from Sanders’ office put it this way: “Sanders had argued that helping unemployed American young people was the least Congress should do in a bill that allows college students from around the world to take jobs that young Americans would otherwise perform.”
According to Sanders, each state would receive a minimum of $7.5 million to run a summer jobs program for young people in 2014 and 2015. States with high youth unemployment would receive a lot more. Many of the bill’s provisions are based on President Obama’s American Jobs Act, which Congress never passed. Sanders claims it would be paid for by “imposing a temporary $10 fee on employers who hire guest workers and international workers who receive green cards.”
Sanders’ amendment is entirely consistent with positions he has taken over many years. The only odd thing is that his proposal would be included in an amendment offered by two Republicans, John Hoeven and Bob Corker. Do they endorse Sanders’ policy positions?
On the one hand, a critic could ask what business lawmakers have recycling provisions from the American Jobs Act as new additions to a sweeping new immigration reform bill. On the other hand, one could argue that the Sanders addition is an attempt to counter some of the economic damage the bill’s sponsors will not admit it will inflict. In any event, Sanders’ project is likely to be part of the massive bill that wins Senate approval by the end of the week.