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Where Things Stand As the Senate Returns

April 9, 2007 - by Donny Shaw

The Senate will be back from Easter recess tomorrow. Here are a couple strands of news to catch up on before then:

Compromised Veto Fodder

First off, Mitch McConnell (R-KY) (pictured at right) and John Boehner (R-OH), the Republican leaders from the Senate and House, are asking Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to bring the House of Representatives back from recess early. The Republican leaders want to begin negotiating a compromise bill between the supplemental war funding bills, as passed in the House and the Senate, as soon as possible. As The Crypt points out, Republicans and Democrats disagree on how urgent the compromise bill is, because they have accepted different estimates as to when war funds will begin to run out.

>Members of both parties have argued about the window by which Congress must act, with Republicans seizing on claims by top military officials that the Pentagon will need the money by the end of April and Democrats highlighting a Congressional Research Service report that the Army has enough money to fund the war through June.

Lat week, Capitol Briefing estimated that the compromise bill will reach the President, and his inevitable veto, on April 27.

Levin Another Weak Link For Democrats

Last week, it seemed like Senate Democrats were sticking together on a plan to end the Iraq war, regardless of the supplemental’s fate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV)announced that he would back Russ Feingold’s (D-WI) plan to follow up a “clean” war funding bill with a separate bill to establish an end date for funding. However, Carl Levin (D-MI) the Senate Armed Service Committee chairman, revealed that, despite the backing of the Majority Leader, Senate Democrats are not in unanimous agreement over the follow-up plan.

>"We’re not going to vote to cut funding, period," Levin said. “But what we should do, and we’re going to do, is continue to press this president to put some pressure on the Iraqi leaders to reach a political settlement.”

Levin goes as far as to suggest that Reid may not even be behind the plan, despite his status as a co-sponsor of the bill:

>"Well, we’re not going to vote to cut funding, period," Levin said. “Even Harry Reid acknowledged that that’s not going to happen.”

Senate Attempt to Pass a Veto-Proof Stem Cell Bill

While the House is in recess and official dealings wit the supplemental are on hiatus, the Senate will take up debate of a different veto-bound bill: the House-approved embryonic stem cell research bill. The bill is all but guaranteed be approved by the Senate. The real question is whether it will find a veto-proof 67 votes:

>According to a count by Congressional Quarterly, Democrats remain one short and that is due mainly to the opposition of Senator Bob Casey [pictured above], the anti-abortion freshman Democrat from Pennsylvania.
>Mr. Casey stressed his opposition to expanded stem cell research in his successful campaign against Rick Santorum last year and has already announced he would oppose the bill.

“Without Amnesty and Without Animosity”

..That is how President Bush is describing his plan to deal with illegal immigrants. However, opponents of his plan have recently called him out on both of these claims, charging that the plan does provide amnesty, and that it does so with intense animosity.

Immigration reform legislation is one of the major concerns of Congress and the Bush administration right now. Both branches have been slowly-but-steadily pushing forward with legislation to enhance border security, establish a temporary worker program, increase interior enforcement, and deal with illegal immigrants. It is mainly this last part that has been drawing so much recent protest.

The path to citizenship plan requires illegal immigrants to go through background checks, pay back taxes, leave the country before re-applying, learn English and American values, and pay substantial fines and application fees. The protest have been coming from groups on both sides of the issue.

Last week, we reported that 97 members of the House of Representatives (96 Republicans, one Democrat) sent a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, asking her not to bring legislation that provides any form of “amnesty” to the House floor. These Representatives do not see Bush’s path to citizenship plan as a plan “without amnesty.” In the letter, they define amnesty as precisely the kind of plan that Bush has described — requiring illegal immigrants "to wait, pay a fine, and “learn” English."

The Washington Post is reporting that the support of these Representatives will be crucially important in passing immigration reform legislation.

>In contrast to her approach to other controversial issues, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has told the White House that she cannot pass a bill with Democratic votes alone, nor will she seek to enforce party discipline on the issue. Bush will have to produce at least 70 Republican votes before she considers a vote on comprehensive immigration legislation, a task that may be very difficult for a president saddled with low approval ratings.

Meanwhile, ten thousand people marched over the weekend in protest of Bush’s plan because it requires illegal immigrants to pay prohibitively-steep fines. The AP article states:

>The White House’s draft plan, which was recently leaked, calls for a new “Z” visa that would allow illegal immigrant workers to apply for three-year work permits. They would be renewable indefinitely, but would cost $3,500 each time.
>To get a permit and become legal permanent residents, illegal immigrants would have to return to their home country, apply at a US embassy or consulate to reenter legally, and pay a $10,000 fine.

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