The House’s $40 billion Department of Homeland Security funding bill, which would have stopped President Barack Obama’s recent actions to help illegal immigrants to work and secure benefits in the United States, was defeated February 3 in the Senate 51 to 48, nine votes less than the 60 required to stop a filibuster. The votes showed party alignment with all Democrats opposing the measure and one Republican, Senator Dean Heller of Nevada voting no. The bill would have defunded President Obama’s 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), which permits individuals who arrived in the United States illegally as children to obtain work permits and avoid deportation. The bill would have also negated President Obama’s November 2014 executive action allowing an additional five million illegal immigrants to obtain work permits and to establish eligibility for some federal benefits.
While many lawmakers expected the DHS funding bill to fail, its defeat underscores the House Republicans’ failure to work with their Republican counterparts in the Senate to effectively lobby for the bill to secure the necessary Democratic votes. We heard that House Speaker John Boehner was working with Senator Ted Cruz (Republican-Texas) and Senator Jeff Sessions (Republican-Alabama) who are among the strongest opponents to President Obama’s amnesty programs for illegal immigrants. But, those efforts were apparently not sufficient. Republicans did not adequately advance the argument that President Obama’s use of executive actions had overstepped his legal authority. It also exposes the vulnerability of the GOP. We have heard that they have an alternative plan. But we have not heard much about it. What is their “Plan B” on immigration? How are they going to simultaneously avoid the DHS impending shutdown on February 27, but also continue to use their congressional authority on spending matters to curtail President Obama’s executive actions on the immigration front? And even if DHS is defunded on February 27th, President Obama’s executive orders which have been described by many Republicans as unconstitutional will still continue.
This week the House has also introduced legislation to repeal Obamacare for the first time since the program’s key components were implemented. The bill passed 239 to 186 with all but three Republicans voting for it. The bill did not receive a single Democratic vote. This is the fourth time the Republicans have tried to “repeal” Obamacare. But the new Republican controlled Senate finally gives it a fighting chance for consideration. This bill is different from its predecessors in that it specifically directs four committees to come up with an alternative to Obamacare. The bill, which was sponsored by Representative Bradley Byrne of Alabama, charges the leaders of the Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce, Education and Workforce and Judiciary Committees to come with an alternative healthcare proposal, but does not affix a firm deadline to the requirement. Unfortunately, the House’s past efforts to identify a replacement for Obamacare have not been successful. The House has voted 60 times to repeal or replace parts of the law, but they have not voted on an alternative bill to the entire law. This time the House needs to deliver. Obamacare’s constitutionality goes on trial in March under “King vs. Burwell”. If the court rules that offering federal subsidies to states which do not have separate exchanges is unconstitutional, Obamacare’s key components including the individual and the employer mandates will begin to unravel. President Obama and the Democrats will be ready with an alternative strategy. The Republicans need to beat them to it. The Republicans need to find a way to pull the party together so that they can craft an affordable alternative to Obamacare which they can sell to the American public.
Republicans need to be ready on all legislative fronts with second options. While both House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have professed to have very aggressive legislative agendas, they need to focus on creating legislation which satisfies the different factions within the Republican Party, but is also palatable to Democrats. This is not an easy task, but the Republicans need to demonstrate that they are up the challenge and that they are not going to back down on their agenda. Only then will meaningful legislation benefiting all Americans be implemented.
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