John Boehner

On Tuesday, Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn of Texas, center, defends legislation he has authored with fellow Texan Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, to speed the removal of tens of thousands of Central American kids flowing over the U.S.-Mexico Border as Washington searches for a solution to the growing crisis.

Photo Credit: AP Photo/ J. Scott Applewhite

The clock is ticking for United States congress members, who have less than 42 hours to curb the surge in unaccompanied Central American minors entering the U.S. illegally or risk de facto surrender to a host of potential executive orders. As deadlocked lawmakers scramble to gain support for various reforms, however, it seems increasingly likely that potential compromise has screeched to a halt, and Americans everywhere will suffer at the hands of partisan paralysis.

More than ever, the stakes for Congress are at an all-time high. The beginning of August means the beginning of a month-long recess for our representatives over on Capitol Hill and a window that some argue is much too large for President Barack Obama, who plans to utilize executive action “whenever Congress refuses to act” if given the chance. Based on previous remarks from the president, this plan is likely to entail a lot of money — somewhere in the ballpark of $3 billion — coupled with plans to amend a 2008 anti-trafficking law that prevents immediate immigrant deportation.

Certainly, the strongest objections have been raised by the right. But perhaps more surprising are the voices of opposition from Democrats, many of whom agree that perhaps Obama should leave this issue to Congress rather than act alone in his plans to amend anti-trafficking legislation.

California attorney Kamala Harris agrees, adding, “Anything that is meant to streamline a system for the sake of speed, as opposed to the sake of justice and due process, is something I cannot support." Given their growing hispanic base, Democrats would hardly gain popularity by repealing the 2008 law, and have instead aligned with migrant advocates such as Harris.

And Republicans would be loath to approve the proposed multi-billion-dollar emergency funding initiative, which essentially cushions the 57,000 underage migrants who have crossed the border illegally since last October. “What the president’s essentially asking for is a blank check,” says Rep. John Boehner, R-OH, the Speaker of the House. “He just wants us to throw more money at the problem without doing anything to solve the underlying crisis.”

While undoubtedly contributing to the stubborn partisan standoff, Boehner’s rigid stance is one that seems to be taken by many , including State Department members from Obama’s own administration. While visiting U.S. Department officials in Honduras and Guatemala, Rep. Kay Granger, R-TX, said the officials agreed with the need to change the law to better deal with the situation on the border.

“The State Department people that work for us, work for our government, agree that the law needs to be changed, and certain steps taken,” Granger said. But with less than a week left to compromise, Congress knows it must act quickly, or else risk being overstepped by executive order.

So who’s to blame for all the inaction in Congress? Ever illustrating the perils of party polarization, both Democrats and Republican have been quick to blame the other side. House Republicans refuse to sign off on funding without the promise of policy change, namely the 2008 law to which they have long since expressed opposition. And both sides in the Senate have implicitly green-lighted a mitigated portion of funding to help solve the problem in the ballpark of $2 million, though many agree that change to the 2008 law must accompany the funds.

In other words, both sides have their demands and neither is particularly willing to meet the other in the middle.

To be fair, Obama’s powers in this situation are somewhat limited . He can’t, for example, increase green card eligibility. He can’t enact blanket legislation that would somehow legalize throngs of undocumented immigrants, despite some of the more hyperbolic right-wing critiques. Rather, executive actions would likely be a bit more subtle. He could move to continue housing facilities or increase resources for legal processes — free access to a lawyer for deportation hearings, for example.

But as Congress fumbles its way through legislative gray areas, the public continues to lament. “There’s so much real potential for change,” says Cori Baker, journalism senior at UT. “It’s hard when it’s all lost at the hands of a political game.”

Partisan gridlock has long plagued the halls of Congress, and Americans are no strangers to the woes of a stalemated Senate. But this issue is one that needs immediate attention. As our leaders finagle over the particulars of emergency funding and nuances in legislation, our country suffers: Approximately 57,000 children have crossed the border illegally since October. These are staggering statistics; and their severity is not lost on the American public.

“On NPR the other day, they were quoting the exact number of Central American immigrants,” sociology senior Masha Romanov said. “It was shocking. To hear that our government can’t come together to resolve a crisis like that, it makes you wonder, what can they do?”

This is an issue which must be tended to with diligence and immediacy. It is a humanitarian crisis; one whose resolution is ultimately thwarted by lack of clarity within the political process.

Yes, the clock is ticking for Congress, but yet it is the ones outside of Capitol hill — the children, the taxpayers — who suffer most with each passing tick.

 

Deppisch is a government senior from League City. Follow Deppisch on Twitter @b_deppy.



 

 

WASHINGTON — If your public tour of the White House has now been canceled, House Speaker John Boehner says come visit the Capitol instead.

Boehner says tours of that building will continue, despite mandatory spending cuts that led the U.S. Secret Service and the National Park Service on Tuesday to announce that public tours of the White House will end, starting Saturday, until further notice.

The Republican speaker made the tit-for-tat announcement in a letter to his Ohio constituents on Tuesday, following news about the suspension of White House tours.

— Compiled from Associated Press Reports

 

WASHINGTON — House Speaker John Boehner accused President Barack Obama on Thursday of conduct “beneath the dignity of the White House.” The top House Democrat said Boehner considers the health of women “a luxury.”

In a measure of the sharp elbows both parties are throwing this election year, note that those words were exchanged over legislation whose basic purpose they say they agree on: preventing interest rates on millions of federal student loans from doubling to 6.8 percent this summer.

Their chief remaining dispute is how to pay for the $5.9 billion cost of keeping those rates low.

When it comes to that, each side has in effect taken a political hostage: House Republicans would cut spending from Obama’s prized health care overhaul law, Senate Democrats would boost payroll taxes on owners of some private corporations and House Democrats would erase federal subsidies to oil and gas companies.

Thursday’s partisan blasts were the latest, vivid example of how lawmakers are missing no chances this election season to portray themselves as seriously addressing voters’ concerns about the economy and other issues while accusing the other side of blatantly playing political games.

The rhetoric intensified Thursday, a day before the House was set to vote on a GOP-written bill that would keep current 3.4 percent interest rates on subsidized Stafford loans intact for another year. The measure would be paid for by carving money out of a preventive health fund established by Obama’s health care overhaul law — a measure most Democrats consider a prized accomplishment worth fighting for.

Obama spent two days this week barnstorming through three college campuses in North Carolina, Colorado and Iowa, using campaign-style speeches before cheering throngs of students to complain that Republicans are dragging their feet on blocking the interest rate boosts.

By Thursday, Boehner, R-Ohio, had had enough, accusing Obama of using taxpayer money to launch political attacks on Republicans for a problem that GOP lawmakers were already working to address.

“Frankly, I think this is beneath the dignity of the White House,” Boehner told reporters. He added, “For the president to make a campaign issue and then to travel to three battleground states and go to three large college campuses on taxpayers money to try to make this some political issue is pathetic. And his campaign ought to be reimbursing the Treasury for the cost of this trip.”

Boehner also accused Obama of waging “a fake fight to try to game his own re-election.”

White House spokesman Jay Carney defended the travel as an effort to champion an important policy issue. He said by taking a high-profile stand in favor of extending the student loan rate, Obama succeeded in winning Republican support.

“It is eminently obvious that the president was out talking about a policy issue,” Carney said. “This is official business. And he did it effectively.”

The Pentagon says the Boeing 747 that is usually used as Air Force One costs $179,750 an hour to operate.

Despite the party-line divisions, some members of each party were considering defecting in Friday’s vote.

The conservative Heritage Action for America was lobbying Republicans to oppose the GOP bill and let interest rates rise, saying to do otherwise would burden taxpayers. And party leaders were pressuring Democrats to vote against the Republican measure, with some Democrats eager to vote to keep student loan rates low despite the health care cuts.

Obama’s budget would protect the 3.4 percent rates for a year. There are 7.4 million low- and middle-income students with subsidized Stafford loans, and the administration says the higher rates would cost each an average $1,000 over the life of the loan.

Minutes before Boehner spoke, he was the focus of attacks by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

She accused Republicans of paying for their student loan bill by raiding women’s programs. That plays into a Democratic theme of recent weeks that Republicans are waging a war on women because of their stances on insurance coverage for contraception and other social issues.

The House GOP bill would cut a $17 billion prevention and public health fund whose projects include breast cancer screening, childhood immunizations, research and wellness education. Boehner and other Republicans have called the program a “slush fund,” and Congress dipped into it earlier this year to prevent reductions in Medicare reimbursements for doctors.

“It may be a slush fund for him, but it’s survival for women,” Pelosi told reporters. “That just goes to show you what a luxury he thinks it is to have good health for women.”

House Democrats have introduced their own version of the bill, sure to go nowhere in the Republican-dominated chamber, which would freeze student loan interest rates for a year and be paid for by reducing government subsidies to oil and gas companies, a favorite Democratic target.

In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., plans votes in May on his version of the bill.
It would pay for a one-year extension of the 3.4 percent interest rates by narrowing a tax shelter that lets owners of many privately held corporations who earn at least $250,000 a year avoid paying Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes on large parts of their incomes.

Senate Republicans have said they support keeping the student loan rates low but oppose the payroll tax increase.

Printed on Friday, April 27, 2012 as: Congress, candidates agree on low student loan rates, but how?

WASHINGTON — The Senate killed Republican-backed attempts to overturn several of President Barack Obama’s environmental and energy policies Thursday as lawmakers worked against a March 31 deadline to keep aid flowing to more than 100,000 transportation construction projects around the country.

The two-year, $109 billion transportation bill before the Senate has wide, bipartisan support, but has become a magnet for lawmakers’ favorite causes and partisan gamesmanship. Among the amendments batted aside were GOP proposals to bypass Obama’s concerns about the Keystone XL oil pipeline, to delay tougher air pollution standards for industrial boilers and to expand offshore oil drilling.

Action on those and other amendments came under an agreement between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., aimed at clearing the way for passage of the transportation bill next week.

Obama lobbied some Senate Democrats by telephone ahead of the Keystone vote, urging them to oppose an amendment by Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., that would have prevented the president from intervening in decisions related to construction of the pipeline and would have speeded its approval. Pointing to the administration’s environmental concerns about the project, which would carry tar sands oil from Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast, Republicans accused Obama of standing in the way greater oil supplies at a time when Americans are coping with rising gasoline prices.

But some Democrats, especially those from oil producing states, were torn between support for the pipeline and their support for the president. The amendment was defeated 56-42, even though 11 Democrats broke ranks to support it. Sixty votes were needed for passage.

Republican leaders jumped on the White House lobbying.

“Most Americans strongly support building this pipeline and the jobs that would come with it,” McConnell said in a statement.

The president’s lobbying against the Keystone provision came “a week after the president signaled to me and to Sen. McConnell that he might be willing to work with us on some bipartisan steps forward on energy legislation that the American people support,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters. “If we’re going to have bipartisan action on energy, the Keystone pipeline is an obvious place to start.”

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama felt it was “wrong to play politics” with the pipeline, especially since the company behind the project has said it still was working on a final route that might satisfy environmental concerns. He also said it was “false advertising” to suggest the amendment would have any impact on gasoline prices.

Also defeated was an amendment by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, which would have forced the Environmental Protection Agency to rewrite a rule requiring boiler operators to install modern emissions controls. Boilers are the second-largest source of toxic mercury emissions after coal-fired power plants. Collins said the EPA’s rule would drive some manufacturers out of business.

And the Senate turned down an amendment to expand offshore oil drilling even though its sponsor, Sen. David Vitter, D-La., contended it would increase domestic energy supplies and reduce gas prices.

The transportation bill itself would overhaul federal transportation programs, including boosting aid to highway and transit programs, streamline some environmental regulations in order to speed up approval of projects and consolidate dozens of programs.

Lawmakers are under pressure to act quickly because the government’s authority to collect about $110 million a day in federal gasoline and diesel taxes and to spend money out of the trust fund that pays for highway and transit programs expires at the end of the month. Chris Bertram, a Transportation Department official, said that if Congress doesn’t meet the deadline, aid to about 130,000 transportation projects around the country will be disrupted and federal workers who send that money to states will be furloughed.

The construction industry, already suffering 17.7 percent unemployment at the end of January, would be especially hurt.

House Republicans crafted their own five-year, $260 billion bill, but they’ve been unable to marshal the support of rank-and-file lawmakers behind it. Conservatives say it spends too much money, while moderates say it would penalize union workers and undermine environmental provisions.

Boehner conceded Thursday that for the moment the House’s best option is to take up the Senate bill after it passes — “or something like it” — although GOP leaders were still talking to their members in the hope of resurrecting their bill.

The inability of House Republicans to pass a highway bill of their own is an example of a paralysis that has struck several times in the past year. Last summer, an impasse over labor issues and subsidies for rural airports led to a two-week shutdown of non-essential Federal Aviation Administration operations.

In December, Boehner overrode his own rank-and-file when he agreed to a deal to extend the Social Security payroll tax cut after most lawmakers had gone home.