By Rachna Choudhry, 2/22/15
From our Hill Sources: Congress is back from its President’s Day recess, in time to work on Homeland Security appropriations, which expires on Friday, Feb. 27. The big sticking point in the Senate is whether to fund the President’s immigration executive actions. The House will hold two hearings related to the President's executive actions addressing undocumented immigrants. It will also vote on replacing No Child Left Behind.
This week, residents of the District of Columbia (DC) are looking to Congress to see if it will respond to the District’s new marijuana legalization initiative, which voters overwhelmingly passed last November. Congress has 30 business days to review District proposals before they become law. In this case, the review period ends on Thursday, Feb. 26. Many DC residents and some in Congress question whether Congress should be involved in local governance. Some even support statehood for the District of Columbia, including President Obama.
Share your voice on POPVOX!
The President’s Immigration Executive Actions
On February 16, a federal judge issued an order halting an expanded deferred action program, DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents), that was to begin last Wednesday. While Judge Andrew Hanen did not consider the merits or constitutionality of the program, he found that the action constituted a rulemaking by the Department of Homeland Security, which would require a period of public comment. The Obama Administration plans to appeal and will request expedited review, according to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. The Judge's order does not affect the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which began in 2012 and was not under consideration in the case.
The House will hold two committee hearings this week on President Obama's executive actions shielding certain undocumented immigrants from deportation. The House Judiciary Committee will hear from a panel of law professors and Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt at their hearing, the "Unconstitutionality of Obama's Executive Actions on Immigration," and the House Oversight Committee will hold a “Review of the Department of Homeland Security’s Policies and Procedures for the Apprehension, Detention, and Release of Non-Citizens Unlawfully Present in the United States.”
Here’s a look at some of the proposals in Congress responding to the President’s Executive Actions:
“Would authorize legal action against the Administration for President Obama’s latest immigration overreach,” according to the bill sponsor.
According to the resolution’s sponsor, “I have reintroduced legislation to authorize the House of Representatives to initiate litigation against the Obama Administration’s unconstitutional executive amnesty for illegal aliens. The federal courts are best suited to determine if President Obama is exceeding his authority, and, if so, how to reverse it.”
Repeal Executive Amnesty Act (HR 191 and S 129 in the Senate)
According to bill sponsors, it would: defund President Obama’s executive amnesty; prohibit DHS or any other federal agency from using funds or fees made available to them to implement, administer, enforce, or carry out any amnesty policies established through executive memos; cut off funding for the president's 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals amnesty and the broader executive amnesty program announced on Nov. 20, 2014; bar illegal immigrants granted deferred action or parole by the Obama administration from accessing certain public benefits including Social Security, Medicare and Obamacare; and prevent illegal immigrants who are granted deferred action from gaining work authorization.
Defund Executive Amnesty Act (HR 227)
According to the resolution’s sponsor, “My bill defunds all of the President's illegal and unconstitutional actions regarding immigration. Beginning with the Morton Memos and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and covering all of his most recent illegal and unconstitutional acts to expand DACA to 5 million more illegal immigrants. To make sure President Obama doesn't attempt to find other ways to circumvent the Constitution, my bill also has a catch-all provision that bars any similar actions in the future and has language to make it clear illegal immigrants are not authorized to work in the United States. This preserves the Constitution, reinforces the separation of powers, and fulfills Republican promises to the American people in the 2014 election."
Immigration Accountability Act (HR 206)
“Prohibits the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from using any fees to implement its Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, an executive order which the president – without the consent of Congress – dramatically expanded in November,” according to the bill sponsor.
Defund Amnesty Act (HR 155)
“It prohibits the use of any appropriated funds for the purpose of carrying out the president’s executive order,” according to the bill sponsor. “This is something every member of Congress, regardless of party, should be supporting because at its core, it maintains an all-too-fragile balance of power among the branches and reinforces Congress’ constitutional role in these matters.”
To prohibit the executive branch from exempting from removal categories of aliens considered under the immigration laws to be unlawfully present in the United States.
“To block the president's executive amnesty plans by prohibiting funding from being used to implement the orders,” according to the bill sponsor.
Homeland Security Appropriations
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson again urged Congress to pass a clean, full-year appropriations bill for the Department of Homeland Security on or before February 27, when the current funding bill expires:
I continue to stress the need for a clean, full-year DHS appropriations bill for FY 2015, unburdened by politically charged amendments that attempt to defund our executive actions on immigration reform. The President has made plain that he will veto a bill that includes such language. DHS is operating on a continuing resolution that expires on February 27. As I have said many times now, as long as DHS is funded by a CR, there are a whole series of activities vital to homeland security and public safety that cannot be undertaken." – Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson
For several weeks, the Senate has been working on the House-passed Department of Homeland Security funding bill, which includes language to defund President Obama’s immigration executive actions:
Makes appropriations for the Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2015. “In total, the bill provides $39.7 billion in discretionary funding for DHS, an increase of $400 million compared to the fiscal year 2014 enacted level. The bill prioritizes frontline security – including all operational, counterterrorism, and threat-targeting activities, and essential tactical equipment – and saves taxpayer dollars by reducing overhead costs and cutting funds for lower-priority programs. The bill also includes several approved amendments to limit the President’s recent actions on immigration and to require DHS to enforce current immigration laws,” according to the House Appropriations Committee.
“A complete, clean bill to fund DHS operations through the remainder of fiscal year (FY) 2015. Shaheen and Mikulski used the House and Senate’s December DHS compromise to write their bill (S 272), and kept it free of extraneous policy riders that would threaten vital homeland security operations. DHS funding is set to expire at the end of February,” according to the sponsors. “Incorporates critical increases in funding and support for border security, cybersecurity, the Secret Service and other national security initiatives. The legislation would fully fund DHS operations for the remainder of FY 2015, and also includes complete disaster funding.”
Also in the House…
The House is expected to vote on these bills:
Student Success Act (HR 5)
Will replace No Child Left Behind and “reduce the federal footprint, restore local control, and empower parents and education leaders to hold schools accountable for effectively teaching students,” according to the House Education and the Workforce Committee. “Replaces the current national accountability scheme based on high stakes tests with state-led accountability systems, returning responsibility for measuring student and school performance to states and school districts. Ensures parents continue to have the information they need to hold local schools accountable. Eliminates more than 65 ineffective, duplicative, and unnecessary programs and replaces this maze of programs with a Local Academic Flexible Grant, helping schools better support students. Protects state and local autonomy over decisions in the classroom by preventing the Secretary of Education from coercing states into adopting Common Core or any other common standards or assessments, as well as reining in the secretary’s regulatory authority. Empowers parents with more school choice options by continuing support for magnet schools and expanding charter school opportunities, as well as allowing Title I funds to follow low-income children to the traditional public or charter school of the parent’s choice. Strengthens existing efforts to improve student performance among targeted student populations, including English learners and homeless children.”
Drinking Water Protection Act (HR 212)
— Bipartisan — Congressman Bob Latta (R-OH) introduced this bill following last summer’s water emergency in Toledo, Ohio caused by the increased presence of harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie, according to the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The bill “would require the Environmental Protection Agency to develop and submit a strategic plan to Congress within 90 days of enactment for assessing and managing the risk associated with harmful algal toxins in drinking water.”
— Bipartisan — “To reduce the reporting workload and increase efficiency at the Federal Communications Commission,” according to the House Energy & Commerce Committee. “The bill consolidates eight discrete reports into one thorough and holistic review of the communications marketplace, with the aim of giving a more accurate view of the advancements and challenges in the fast moving and innovative communications and technology sector. It also reduces the burden on the FCC by eliminating outdated and unnecessary reports.”
STEM Education Act (HR 1020)
— Bipartisan — To define STEM education to include computer science, and to support existing STEM education programs at the National Science Foundation.
— Bipartisan — “Would reauthorize the Education Sciences Reform Act (ESRA), which authorizes funding for the research activities of the U.S. Department of Education, including the Institute for Education Sciences, and will help to improve the quality of education research in the United States and make research more relevant and usable for teachers, principals, school districts and states,” according to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP).
— Bipartisan — “Would expand, modernize, and strengthen tax-free 529 college savings plans,” according to the bill sponsor. “The importance and popularity of 529 college savings plans have grown substantially as more middle class families have used them to save for college. Since the bipartisan creation of Section 529 in 1996, these plans have gone from nothing to nearly 12 million accounts and resulted in college savings of more than $225 billion.”
The District of Columbia’s Marijuana Initiative and Congressional Review
As early as this week, marijuana may become legal in the District of Columbia. Last November, voters in the District overwhelmingly approved Initiative 71, which would legalize the limited possession (up to two ounces, or 100 joints according to the Washington Post) and cultivation of marijuana (up to six plants) by adults who are 21 or older. Unlike marijuana laws in other states, the initiative did not create a legal, regulated market for marijuana sales, but left it up to District Council.
Then, Congress got involved.
Under the District’s Home Rule government, Congress reviews all legislation passed by the Council before it can become law. It can disapprove a District measure within a review period of 30 business days, which in this case ends on approximately Feb. 26, 2015.
Congress’s federal FY 2015 funding bill known as “cromnibus”, which passed in December 2014, included provision introduced by Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) that challenged the District’s ability to enact marijuana laws by blocking it from spending funds to legalize or regulate the sale of marijuana. As a result, barring any additional Congressional intervention, the District’s marijuana law will go into effect as early as Thursday, Feb. 26—without any regulations in place governing a marijuana marketplace.
This month, President Obama proposed his budget for FY 2016, which would limit the prohibition passed by Congress to federal funds only—allowing the District to use local funds to enact marijuana laws or regulations. More broadly, the Administration supports the principle of Home Rule for the District, as well as statehood, and believes Congress should not interfere with local decisions. As White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest explained, “we do not believe that Congress should spend a lot of time interfering with the ability of the citizens of the District of Columbia to make decisions related to how they should govern their community.”
Related Bills in Congress
Several bills have been introduced in Congress to address how the District of Columbia is governed:
“To eliminate the congressional review period for legislation passed by the D.C. Council,” according to the bill sponsor. “The mandatory congressional review period imposes wholly unnecessary administrative costs on the D.C. government, Congress and D.C. businesses and residents who have no certainty when D.C. bills, covering major issues such as taxes and regulations, will take effect.”
“To allow D.C.'s local budget to take effect after it is approved by the city without congressional approval,” according to the bill sponsor.
New Columbia Admission Act (HR 317)
To make the District of Columbia the 51st state.
— Please keep in mind that highlighting a bill doesn't imply a POPVOX endorsement in any way. Rather, we're simply trying to offer one more way to stay informed of a complex legislative system. —