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Senate Vote: 62     Vote Date: Feb 27th, 2015

Issue:  H.R. 240 A bill making appropriations for the Department of Homeland Security for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2015, and for other purposes. Question:  On passage of the bill as amended.

Result: Passed in Senate, 68 to 31, 1 not voting. Became Public Law 114-4 (signed by the President 3-4-15). GOP and Democrats scored. 

Freedom First Society: The original House appropriations bill sent to the Senate in January had prohibited any spending to implement President Obama’s executive orders providing “temporary” amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants. In this version, the Senate had stripped out the language

The Senate Republicans were split, with most opposing this capitulation to the President. Even though the GOP controlled the House and the Senate, in both chambers the leadership pushed this “stripped” measure through on the backs of Democratic support.

We have assigned (good vote) to the Nays and (bad vote) to the Yeas. (P = voted present; ? = not voting; blank = not listed on roll call.)

Bill Summary: H.R. 240 authorized appropriations for the Department of Homeland Security through the remainder of the 2015 fiscal year. The original House bill sent to the Senate in January had prohibited any spending to implement President Obama’s executive orders providing “temporary” amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants.On February 27, the Senate voted to amend the House bill by deleting that restriction (see Senate Vote 61, Senate Amendment #255, introduced by Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on behalf of Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS) and Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD)).

Senate Vote 62 (this vote) is on the full appropriations bill as amended, which was subsequently approved in the House on March 3 (see Roll Call 109 and our analysis) and signed into law by the President. 

Analysis: The entire dispute over H.R. 240 centered on the House use of that appropriations bill to block the President from implementing his unconstitutional executive orders regarding temporary amnesty. The Senate Democrats supported this amended “clean” version, 43 to 0 with 1 not voting. Both independents voted Yea.

The Republicans were split, with most opposing this capitulation to the President. The GOP vote was 23 in favor of this “stripped” version to 31 against.   Even though the GOP controlled the House and the Senate, in both chambers the leadership pushed this “stripped” measure through on the backs of Democratic support. We present here a few relevant quotes from the Congressional Record:

Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) summarized the dispute well:

“Madam President, in November 2014, the President of the United States issued a series of Executive orders effectively granting amnesty to millions of people who were in the United States unlawfully, outside of what our laws allow — laws passed by Congress and signed into law by the President of the United States.

“In other words, under article I, section 8, we, as a Congress, are given power to establish a uniform system of laws governing immigration and naturalization. If our laws allow someone to come in, they may come in, but if they do not, then those people need to make sure they go about getting into the country legally and lawfully.

“If and when the President of the United States, or anyone else for that matter, thinks these laws are inadequate, there is a way to change them. The way to change them is to go back to the Congress of the United States, go back to the lawmaking body, go back to that entity recognized in article I, section 1 of the Constitution, to the very first substantive line which says, ‘All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and a House of Representatives.’

“Unfortunately, the President of the United States chose not to change the law that way. Unfortunately, the President of the United States, contradicting his own prior statements, chose to take Executive action to legalize millions of people currently in the United States illegally.

“Ultimately, this is an issue that ought to be of concern to every one of us. It is an issue that is neither Republican nor Democratic. It is neither liberal nor conservative. It is simply an American issue. It is simply an issue that flows from the rule of law, flows from the notion that ours is a system that runs under the rule of law and not under the rule of individuals.

“There is a means by which we as a Congress can resist the encroachments of an overreaching Chief Executive. It is the same means identified by James Madison in the Federalist papers, and that means involves the use of the power of the purse. Congress, of course, funds the operations of the Federal Government. The President of the United States cannot do that all on his own. So should we choose to do so, as Congress has chosen to do on so many other occasions — when we see something within the government, whether implemented legally at the outset or not, when we see something we don’t like, we can choose not to fund that.

“We have, over the last few weeks, tried to do precisely that in response to this Executive action. One month ago the House of Representatives passed a bill to keep the Department of Homeland Security funded, with the understanding that at midnight tonight that funding stream would expire. At the time the House of Representatives passed that legislation, the House of Representatives — a body most accountable to the people at the most frequent intervals — made a decision. They said, We are going to keep everything else within the Department of Homeland Security funded, and the House of Representatives said, We will, however, direct the Department of Homeland Security not to spend any money implementing certain Executive orders issued by the President, in November 2014 and previously, dealing with Executive amnesty.

“The Senate has been trying to proceed to that bill for nearly 4 weeks. Unfortunately, my colleagues on the other side of the aisle have refused to allow us to proceed to that bill. They have blocked our attempts. They have engaged in obstruction and they have not allowed us to proceed to it. Why? Because they didn’t like that appropriations rider. They didn’t like that spending restriction. Apparently, they do not think we should be exercising that power described by James Madison and foreseen by our Founding Fathers as that last great protection against an overreaching Executive. So they refused to allow us to get onto the bill.” [Emphasis added.]

Senator David Vitter (R-LA) echoed Senator Lee: “Madam President, I rise in strong opposition to stripping off all of the House language from the Homeland Security funding bill and proceeding with a ‘clean bill.’

“I do so because I took a constitutional oath, and I take that oath very seriously. The language which we are debating in the Homeland Security funding bill from the House goes directly to that oath and goes directly to that responsibility. It does so for two reasons.

“First of all, this Executive amnesty, which has about 5 million illegal aliens getting blanket significant amnesty because of the President’s Executive action, is a big deal. It is a big deal in terms of policy. It is a big deal regarding his overreaching his legal and constitutional authority.

“First, policy. It is a fundamental rule of economics — it is a fundamental rule of life — that when you reward behavior, you get more of it. When you penalize certain behavior, you get less of it.

“A blanket overarching amnesty which gives about 5 million illegal aliens in the country here amnesty is rewarding behavior. It is rewarding behavior we say we want to curtail, we say we want to stop, but we are rewarding it, and we are going to get more of it. That is not just me saying that theoretically. We have lived that over and over again….

“The second concern I have is even far more fundamental, because it goes to his constitutional power and authority, and the fact that he is going well beyond that constitutional power and authority, I think, clearly.

“Presidents have significant authority. They are the Executive. They need to execute the law. In executing the law, they often have to fill in the blanks, fill in the details that Congress has not fully provided. But that is very different from acting contrary to the law — 180 degrees contrary to statutory law — and that is what the President is doing in this instance.

“No President has that authority. If they want to do that, they need to change the law. As every school kid knows, that goes through Congress, and then the President obviously has a role in terms of a veto. But the President doesn’t want to do that. He can’t do that. Congress disagrees with him. So he is just changing the law with the stroke of a pen. That is what is clearly illegal and unconstitutional, because he is acting contrary to statutory law.

“Some of his apologists — including Loretta Lynch, for example — say:  Well, every President can set prosecution priorities. We are simply setting priorities. We are simply saying this class of folks is not a priority for legal action, deportation prosecution.

“I asked Ms. Lynch directly after she said that: Isn’t it true the President is going beyond that? Isn’t it true he is giving this entire class of illegal aliens a new legal status? She had no substantive response.

“I said: Isn’t it true the President is going beyond that? He is creating a new document out of thin air, with ‘work permit’ at the top, and handing it to these illegal aliens and suggesting they now have a right to work legally in this country, even though statutory law makes it crystal clear they do not. She had no substantive answer to that.

“I urge my colleagues not to strip out this important House language. The President’s action is bad policy that will grow the illegal immigration problem, and it is acting clearly beyond his legal constitutional authority.”

To allow more time for a House-Senate conference, the House agreed that same day to a continuing resolution extending funding for the Department through March 6.

However, after having stripped out the language prohibiting “amnesty,” the Senate refused to go to conference with the House (see Senate Vote 64, 3/5 vote required, March 2, 2015). 

Senator John Hoeven (R-ND): “Our colleagues on the other side of the aisle filibustered H.R. 240. Only when amendments were limited to one amendment did they allow us to proceed to the bill. That is unfortunate, but clearly it was done to protect the President’s Executive order on immigration.

“The irony is that the President’s overreach should not be a partisan issue. Our forefathers created a system of checks and balances in our Constitution to protect the rights of our citizens. The legislative, the executive, and the judicial branches all have a role to play in this system of checks and balances. When one branch exceeds its authority, the others have an obligation to check that overreach, an obligation to protect the rights of our citizens.

“That is exactly what has happened in this situation. The President’s Executive order on immigration exceeds his authority as the leader of the executive branch. Now a Federal district court in Texas has issued an injunction to stay the President’s action, and that stay is in place while the lawsuit against the President’s action which has been filed by 26 States is adjudicated. That is our role too. Just like the States stepping up when the President has overreached his authority, just like the Federal court stepping up when the President has exceeded his authority, that is our role too — to protect the legislative power, which is solely the power of the legislative branch, solely the power of Congress.

“So I call on my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to send H.R. 240 to conference to see if we can find common ground. That is, after all, regular order for the Congress.”

See also our analysis of House Roll Call 109 (March 3, 2015).