Immigration Debate May Grow More Complicated

Billy House

Congress is set to focus on immigration reform this week, though the landscape may shift as details emerge in the Boston Marathon bombing case that could alter the debate.

Some conservative lawmakers were already highlighting immigration's role in national security during Friday’s first hearing on sweeping, bipartisan legislation to remake the system. Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, pointed to the tragic events in Boston and said the bill will give lawmakers, "an opportunity to refocus on the issues at hand, and the importance to remain vigilant and secure the homeland.” The news that the Tsarnaev brothers accused of bombing the Boston Marathon were immigrants, albeit legal ones,  could easily come into play.

The committee will continue deliberations on Monday in its second hearing on the legislation, with voting expected in May. The panel is also waiting to hear from Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who canceled her appearance at the first hearing to deal with the manhunt in Massachusetts.

Other notable activities in Congress this week include:

  • The House expects to vote on a Republican measure that would transfer $3 billion in a Health and Human Services “Prevention and Public Health Fund,” created under the Affordable Care Act but derided by opponents as an "Obamacare slush-fund,” to the federal government’s Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan. It would also allocate $1 million toward deficit reduction.
  • The Senate plans to take up debate on Internet sales tax legislation that would allow states to collect sales tax from Internet companies, regardless of wherethe companies are located.
  • The Senate and House Armed Services Committees will hear Tuesday and Thursday from senior officials about their requests for fiscal 2014 and the threats facing their posts or services. The House Science Space, and Technology Committee will also take testimony on Wednesday from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.
  • The House expects to vote on a bill to authorize the Bureau of Land Management to retain proceeds from the sale of helium from the Federal Helium Reserve to pay for the costs of operating the reserve. The bill would also require the bureau to assess global supplies of helium.
  • Gina McCarthy and Ernie Moniz, President Obama’s nominees to head the Environmental Protection Agency and the Energy Department, will continue to hold meetings with senators ahead of their confirmation votes.

But much of the focus this week is expected to be on immigration reform, given that an already intense debate has now taken on a new wrinkle. Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., are among those arguing that the events in Boston do not justify delaying or stopping the effort entirely because, they say, immigration reform will actually strengthen national security.


Fiscal Fights 

There are two fiscal fights on the horizon this week in Congress.

The first is the Senate’s plan to take up debate on Internet sales-tax legislation. The other major fiscal fight concerns the appointment of budget conferees to work through the Senate's and House's competing budget proposals.

House Speaker John Boehner said last week that the two Budget chairmen, Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Paul Ryan, need to work out a framework before moving ahead with a budget conference, a statement that galls Democrats because, they say, it does not mesh with the Republicans' recent calls for regular order.

House Democrats, such as Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Steny Hoyer, and Budget Committee ranking member Chris Van Hollen, have called on the House Republicans repeatedly to move forward and appoint budget conferees, calling it the next step in the process now that the Senate Democrats have passed their budget.

A nonbinding amendment to permit the Internet sale tax passed during the Senate's recent vote-a-rama. The legislation has the backing of brick-and-mortar retail stores, such as the National Retail Federation, which say that Internet companies should be subject to the same tax as retailers.

Yet, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus has opposed the legislation in the past, preferring instead that it first goes through the tax-writing committee. Baucus worries that the bill in its current form does not adequately address the way the Internet sales tax would work across state lines, especially when states have such different tax rules, says a Senate Finance Committee aide.


Bipartisan Bills

A handful of small but bipartisan energy bills will get moving in the Senate this week, as the Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing on an energy-efficiency bill sponsored by New Hampshire Democrat Jeanne Shaheen and Ohio Republican Rob Portman, as well as on a series of bills aimed at promoting hydropower in the northwest.

The bills are something of an anomaly in the usual partisan gridlock of Congress--they have bipartisan support in both chambers and at least a chance of passage. But the partisan clash over climate change and EPA regulations are likely to flare once again at Wednesday’s Senate Appropriations hearing on the agency's fiscal 2014 budget request and on Thursday’s House Science Committee hearing on climate-change policy.

On Wednesday, a key White House voice will speak on energy and climate issues: National Security Adviser Tom Donilon is scheduled to speak at the launch of Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy.


Debating Issues 

Along with the action before the Senate Judiciary Committee this week, the immigration debate will continue in the House, where Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., has said he will hold a hearing on the bill.

Meanwhile, the House's "Gang of Eight," which is drafting its own immigration bill, has officially outed itself, issuing a statement last week applauding the Senate for its progress and pledging to unveil its own proposal in the coming months. House "gang" member Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., said on C-Span's Newsmakers last week that he expects the House bill to be more conservative than the Senate version, particularly on cracking down on employers who hire undocumented workers.


ACA Oversight

Energy and Commerce will be holding the latest in a series of Affordable Care Act oversight hearings on Wednesday, when Gary Cohen, who is overseeing insurance regulation, including the construction of health insurance exchanges in the states, will be testifying about his office's progress.

Its Health Subcommittee will hold a hearing Thursday on strategies for tracking prescription drugs as they move through the supply chain--a response to a series of high-profile cases of counterfeit drugs and a growing patchwork of new state laws that have led industry to request a national standard. The committee is hoping to pass legislation requiring a tracking system this year.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee's Primary Health and Aging Subcommittee will hold a hearing Tuesday on how to improve the country's primary care workforce.


In the Weeds 

Budget hearings continue this week, and the Senate and House Armed Services Committees will hear from senior officials about their requests for fiscal 2014 and the threats facing their posts or services.

The Senate panel will have seven such hearings. High-profile witnesses include Army Secretary John McHugh and his chief of staff, Gen. Raymond Odierno on Tuesday; and Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, Chief of Naval Operations Jonathan Greenert, and Marine Corps Commandant James Amos on Thursday.

The House will hear from the Army duo on Thursday, but the rest of its panels will dive into the weeds, as its schedule features a slew of subcommittee hearings on such things as the “readiness posture of the U.S. Air Force” and oversight of the U.S. Naval and Air Force acquisition programs and national security space activities.


Mathematical Minds

On Monday, President Obama will host the White House Science Fair and celebrate the student winners of a broad range of science, technology, engineering, and math competitions from across the country. And on Thursday, Obama plans to attend the dedication ceremony in Dallas for the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum.