Republicans Block Bipartisan Border Bill a Second Time

Republicans Block Bipartisan Border Bill a Second Time

By Yuval Rosenberg and Michael Rainey
Thursday, May 23, 2024

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Republicans Block Bipartisan Border Bill in the Senate

The Senate on Thursday failed for a second time to advance a border bill that would expand presidential power to restrict immigration, reduce the number of asylum claims and provide additional funding for security and legal personnel.

The bill was the product of a bipartisan compromise reached in February. It failed in the Senate after former President Donald Trump said he opposed it and indicated he wanted to keep the issue alive for political reasons. Thursday’s second vote on the bill was seen largely as a messaging opportunity for Democrats, who say Republicans are more interested in using the border for political posturing than in taking steps to improve the situation.

The vote was 43-50, with only one Republican, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, voting in favor of the bill. Six Democrats and the rest of the Republicans voted no. Two of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. James Lankford, Republican of Oklahoma, and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, independent of Arizona, voted against it. The bill’s third sponsor, Sen. Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, voted yes.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, hammered the political message home. "The contrast between Democrats and Republicans is clear today and will be even clearer in November," he said. "Democrats want to fix the border and get something done. Republicans want to give speeches, let the border fester and do absolutely nothing to fix the problem."

The White House echoed the theme. "Congressional Republicans do not care about securing the border or fixing America’s broken immigration system," President Joe Biden said following the failed vote. "If they did, they would have voted for the toughest border enforcement in history. Instead, today, they put partisan politics ahead of our country’s national security."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell defended his caucus’s rejection of the bill, while claiming the border crisis is wholly the responsibility of the Biden administration. "The president needs to step up to it — do everything he can do on his own because legislation is obviously not going to clear this year," McConnell told reporters earlier this week.

House Republicans Plow Toward 2025 Spending Fight

As the House is beginning its work on fiscal year 2025 spending bills, the Appropriations Committee on Thursday approved an overarching GOP plan for divvying up just over $1.6 trillion in discretionary funding. The allocations, approved by a 30-to-22 margin, were previewed last week by Republican Committee Chairman Tom Cole of Oklahoma, who said again today that the proposed funding levels adhere to the bipartisan agreement codified in last year’s Fiscal Responsibility Act — a claim Democrats dispute because the numbers don’t include the negotiated side deals.

House Republicans’ proposed allocations would increase defense spending by nearly $9 billion to more than $895 billion while cutting non-defense spending by 6%, to $710.7 billion, with some agencies in line for steeper cuts of 10% or 11%.

The subcommittees on Commerce, Justice, and Science and Financial Services and General Government would get significant increases while Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education would see a large cut, as would the State Department and Foreign Operations subcommittee.

"An honest accounting of our fiscal state shows that mandatory spending is the main driver of our budgetary crisis, not discretionary spending. But we must still do our part to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars," Cole said at Thursday’s markup.

Democrats panned the GOP budget allocations and said the proposed topline funding levels fell short of last year’s deal and what the American people need. "While I know we will have cordial and respectful negotiations down the line, quite frankly, I am experiencing déjà vu all over again, as we begin down an already well-trodden path towards chaos, division, and shutdown threats," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, the top Democrat on the committee. "Democrats will accept nothing less than a 1% increase over 2024 in nondefense and defense funding. That means that the starting point for 2025 for nondefense must be at least $786 billion. Instead, the Chair’s allocations walk away from that commitment and take off the table at least $75 billion in investments for American families."

Appropriators approve MilCon funding bill: The Appropriations Committee also approved an appropriations bill covering Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies. The plan would provide more than $147 billion in discretionary funding and $231 billion for mandatory programs for a total of $378.6 billion.

"We’ve fully funded health care and benefits for our veterans and ensured the quality of life of our troops and their loved ones are prioritized," Cole said.

But the bill also revives Republican efforts to enact controversial culture war measures limiting access to abortion, prohibiting the use of funds "to promote or advance critical race theory" and restricting diversity efforts and transgender care. Democrats blasted the legislation and said the GOP plan would worsen the quality of life for servicemembers and veterans while cutting $718 million from last year’s military construction funding.

"House Republicans could have very easily found broad, bipartisan support for this bill, but they chose not to. Instead, they failed to adequately fund military construction projects and loaded the bill with extreme, harmful policies meant to divide rather than unite our country," DeLauro said. "With this bill, the first of fiscal year 2025, House Republicans have shown the country that they plan to follow the same misguided, chaotic, and harmful process they pursued last year, to the detriment of servicemembers, veterans, workers, and families."

Panel advances Legislative Branch spending bill: The House Appropriations Legislative Branch Subcommittee approved a $7.1 billion funding plan that represents an increase of 5.6% over the 2024 level, including as-yet unspecified Senate-only items. The bill would provide a 10% increase for the Government Accountability Office; roughly 5% boosts for the Capitol Police and the Congressional Budget Office; and a 3.7% increase for the Library of Congress. Democrats again objected to GOP policy riders they called harmful.

The bottom line: The appropriations process is now underway more than four months before the new fiscal year begins and House Republicans are pushing ahead with plans to pass annual spending bills on an aggressive schedule. Still, Congress is highly unlikely to complete the task of funding the government for fiscal year 2025 by the end of September as many of last year’s fights are renewed. Lawmakers are setting up battles over funding levels, as the House Republican proposals are below what the Senate will want, and over controversial GOP policy riders. So they’re more than likely going to need a continuing resolution to prevent a government shutdown this fall, with a fight also on the horizon over how long the stopgap should be.

But kudos to you for reading this far!

Column of the Day: Simplifying US Tax Filing

Law and Finance Professor Natasha Sarin was deputy assistant secretary for economic policy in the Biden administration and a counselor to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, so it’s no surprise that she disagrees with almost all of Donald Trump’s tax policies, including plans for new tariffs and renewed tax cuts in a potential second term as president.

Yet Sarin writes in The Washington Post that there’s one Trump tax promise she supports: "Tax filing should be as easy as sending a postcard."

Sarin says that, while Trump-era efforts to deliver on the idea of a much simpler tax form became "a source of ridicule" and "a symbol of how little Trump and his administration understood the complexity of governing and valued symbolic gestures over serious reform," the possibility of a postcard-sized tax return shouldn’t be laughed off.

Sarin notes that our tax code is more complex than that of some other rich nations that have simplified filing. Still, she says, there are ways we can make the filing process easier for many Americans. "Recent work by the Budget Lab at Yale, which I co-founded, shows that the IRS has enough information to pre-fill returns for approximately 40 percent of taxpayers," she writes. "These are ‘simple filers’ who receive only wages or Social Security income and do not need to file any additional schedules."

Transitioning to a simpler system will take some upfront investment, but Sarin argues that it would improve the integrity of the system and allow refunds to be delivered faster. "In a world where we can buy coffee and send money around the world from our phones, filing our taxes on a postcard — or even without a return at all — isn’t a naive aspiration" she writes. "It is the very least that Americans can and should expect from their government."

Read the full column at The Washington Post.

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