The Senate is gone for the St. Patrick’s Day recess, and the Chamber was able to make some major headway on a spate of bills before departing. Their work was on a wide variety of issues, including sanctions on Russia and aid to Ukraine; public assistance for child-care, which passed by an overwhelming vote of 96-2; and flood-insurance policy, which passed with a respectable 72-22; and, perhaps most notably, a continuation of the expired unemployment benefits.
The unemployment benefits passage is an important accomplishment for its supporters because there had been a number of failed attempts to pass it. Republicans had objected to a previous bill on the grounds that it would increase the deficit. All 55 Senate Democrats, along with 5 Republicans, support the bill, allowing it to overcome any procedural hurdles it might face. The bill would retroactively provide assistance to over 2 million Americans who lost the insurance payments when they lapsed on December 28. The benefits will cost about $10 million, and will be paid for in a number of ways, including the extension of U.S. Customs fees. The House will have to act on the measure. Speaker John Boehner criticized past unemployment benefits extension bills for not sufficiently offsetting the cost, but he has not weighed in on this piece of legislation.
An area where there is even more bipartisan accord than the unemployment benefits extension is aid for Ukraine. There is broad agreement among Republicans and Democrats that the United States should offer aid to the country torn by civil strife and Russia’s incursion into Crimea. The House has already passed a bill to assist Ukraine, and the Senate is coming close to approving its own aid legislation. (There is, however, a dispute between the parties on whether or not reforms to the International Monetary Foundation should be included. Democrats say yes, Republicans say no.) Additionally, Senator John McCain of Arizona will lead a Senate delegation to Ukraine to meet with leaders there and show support for the country. Five of the delegation will be Republicans and three will be Democrats.
President Barack Obama has repeatedly said that one of his top priorities is to pass immigration reform. This issue illustrates a dilemma that would vex even the most popular President: Do I work with the opposition that controls Congress? Or do I satisfy my own party’s base? One of President Obama’s core constituencies is Hispanic Americans, and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and outside groups have called on him to slow down the pace of deportations. On the other hand, Republicans currently control the House and quite possibly will take the Senate in November Thus, he will have to earn their trust to work on any kind of immigration reform with them. In the face of these two competing pressures, the President announced on Thursday that he would ask Jeh Johnson, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, to review what legal options there are for him to change deportation policy.
Yesterday we wrote about the House-passed bill that allows either Chamber of Congress to more easily bring a lawsuit against the Executive Branch for not enforcing a law. The sponsor of the bill, Representative Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, delivered what many considered to be a rousing speech in defense of the bill. Of course, it is of interest to us because he defends the rights of Congress against the encroachment of the Executive Branch. It is also noteworthy because he highlights the importance of process in our political system. “What I do know is this, process matters”, Gowdy said. He was not speaking of the legislative process here, but it is actually a principle that applies to many aspects of the American government, parliamentary procedure. In Congress, understanding the legislative process is crucial to governing effectively.
And since it’s Kitteh Friday: The inventor of the Internet is surprised at how cats now dominate his creation. Of course, he can thank Representative Darrell Issa for kicking up the kitty count quite a bit.
And for our latest post: More Nuclear-Option Fallout: Senate Blocks Presidential Appointment