House GOP Slams the Door on Immigration Reform
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The Fiscal Times
November 19, 2013

As the House wrapped up its business last week, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) posed the question of the hour to Eric Cantor, the powerful GOP Majority Leader:  Would immigration reform, a new farm bill or any other major piece of legislation be brought to the floor before the end of the year?

“I would ask the gentleman if he really wants the House to work its will,” Hoyer said in the overly polite, flowery language used in congressional debate. 

No, Cantor said repeatedly. “We don’t want a repeat of what’s going on now with Obamacare.”

With just eleven days remaining in the House legislative calendar this year, the window for any meaningful additional congressional action has been slammed shut. While the congressional calendar obviously will spill into the following year of a two-year session, partisan lines will harden even more the closer we get to the 2014 mid-term election. 

House Republican leaders first dismissed a bipartisan immigration reform bill approved by the Senate in June that offered millions of illegal immigrants a path to citizenship and now are unwilling to take up much narrower border security measures that make it more difficult for illegal immigrants to get jobs or obtain social services-- measures drafted by Republicans in the Judiciary Committee.

Related: Illegal Immigration Debate Splits the GOP Yet Again

Nor is there any interest in reconciling the House and Senate versions of new farm legislation or finding common ground on cutting federal food stamp spending. Earlier this month, the Senate approved legislation to guarantee federal workplace protection for gays and transgender employees. But nobody seriously expects that bill to get a hearing – let alone a vote – in the House this year.

Rather than having to justify their ideological intransigence or political foot dragging, Republicans point to the debacle over the rollout of the Affordable Care Act and the controversy over millions of cancelled individual health insurance plans as reason enough not to rush into passing another complex piece of legislation. 

“I would just say again, be mindful of what happens when you [hastily] put together a bill like Obamacare and the real consequences [it has for] millions of Americans right now who are scared that they’re not going to even have health care insurance . . . come January,” Cantor chided Hoyer. 

The Obamacare fiasco forced President Obama to repeatedly apologize last week for the website glitches, cancelled individual policies and other snafus. He said they were all “on me.” It has become the GOP’s all-purpose excuse for sidelining the remainder of this year’s legislative agenda.

Related: Obamacare Mess Defines GOP 2014 Campaign Strategy

The one big exception, of course, is the work of the bipartisan Senate-House budget conference committee, which has been mandated to report back by Dec. 13 with a proposal for funding the government through the remainder of the fiscal year. There is general agreement that something must be done to block or blunt another round of sequester cuts: Democrats want to increase revenue by closing loopholes while Republicans are opposed to raising taxes.

Congress has until next Jan. 15 to approve a spending measure to avoid another government shutdown and until Feb. 7 to raise the debt ceiling again. Final action could easily spill into early next year.

The 13 top Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee joined in a letter Monday urging budget negotiators to “redouble” their efforts and report a top-line number for discretionary spending before Thanksgiving — or no later than Dec. 2. 

“If a timely agreement is not reached, the likely alternatives could have extremely damaging repercussions,” warns the letter, signed by House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) and other members. 

The GOP is still smarting from the public backlash to their role in forcing a 16-day government shutdown and near default on the U.S. debt last month. But with the president now battling to regain his credibility and salvage the remainder of his second-term agenda, House Republicans are choosing to turn their attention to 2014 and the mid-term election campaign. 

Related: CBO’s Elmendorf Downplays Need for Big Budget Deal

“Republicans in the House have made up their minds they’re going to try to stay out of trouble on the hostage taking, with government shutdowns and default, and really go full board against Obamacare, said Thomas Mann, a congressional scholar at the Brookings Institution. “In the Senate . . . Republicans are focusing on judicial appointments and they’re going to be pretty intractable on that. So yeah, I don’t see much happening,” he added. 

Mann may be right. So far, there’s no evidence of a solution to the immigration reform stalemate– a dispute that has divided the GOP and prevents it from extending its reach to Hispanic voters.

Rep. Robert Goodlatte, R-Va., chairman of the Judiciary Committee, told  Bloomberg TV News last week that "What we object to in the Senate bill is a pathway to citizenship.”

Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the House Majority Whip, told immigration reform proponents recently that there weren’t enough days left for the House to act and that he was committed to addressing overhaul of the nation’s immigration system next year, The Washington Post reported. Boehner said emphatically last week that there won’t be a repeat in the House of what happened in the Senate where members approved an immigration bill they never read.

“It’s not going to happen in the House, and frankly I’ll make clear we have no intention of ever going to conference on the Senate bill,” Boehner told reporters.

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Washington Editor and D.C. Bureau Chief Eric Pianin is a veteran journalist who has covered the federal government, congressional budget and tax issues, and national politics. He spent over 25 years at The Washington Post.