Republicans in the House and Senate disagreed today over how best to use the “power of the purse” to block President Obama’s imminent executive action on immigration.
Lawmakers on the House Appropriations Committee said they can’t do it within normal procedures.
Colleagues on the Senate Budget Committee said there’s a way.
Officials with House Appropriations contend that the government agency most responsible for implementing any new executive order affecting illegal immigrants — U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services — cannot be defunded by Congress because the agency operates on revenue it generates through immigration applications.
Even if non-essential functions of the government were to be shut down, they said, Citizenship and Immigration Services, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, could still function. The reason: It doesn’t use congressionally appropriated funds to pay for activities such as issuing legalization status and work permits.
Congress does appropriate about $100 million per year for Citizenship and Immigration Services, but that money is used only for the E-Verify program, the system that allows businesses to determine the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States.
In a statement, the Appropriations Committee also said:
The agency has the ability to continue to collect and use fees to continue current operations, and to expand operations as under a new executive order, without needing legislative approval by the appropriations committee or Congress, even under a continuing resolution or a government shutdown.
The committee’s position was first reported by The New York Times.
However, officials with the Senate Budget Committee argue that Congress has other ways through the appropriations process to beat back Obama’s unilateral action on immigration matters.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., the ranking member of the Budget Committee, told The Daily Signal that assertions denying lawmakers’ fiscal leverage over Citizenship and Immigration Services are “just plain wrong.”
“On its face, the suggestion that the White House can implement any unlawful and unconstitutional act so long as it pays for it with assessed fees is just plain wrong,” Sessions said in an email, adding:
Congress has the power and every right to deny funding for unworthy activities. It is a routine and constitutional application of congressional power. There is no question that Congress has the power to block this expenditure. If such language is not included, the measure will be subject to the same 60-vote threshold in the Senate and simple majority in the House. This will require no more votes than passing a funding bill without the needed language. The question is whether or not Democratic senators will finally stand up to the president.
Although Obama will not announce the details of his plan until tonight, it is expected to shield millions of illegal immigrants from deportation and allow some to work legally in the country. Many of the president’s Republican critics say such action not only is a form of amnesty for lawbreakers, but unconstitutionally goes around Congress.
Some argue that Congress can stop Obama’s plan by attaching “rider” legislation to a spending bill that would include specific language denying the president’s initiatives from moving forward.
“If something is passed by Congress and signed by the president that says that department [Citizenship and Immigration Services] can’t function, then it can’t collect fees,” a Republican Senate aide told The Daily Signal. “They are not a private enterprise.”
But a staff member with House Appropriations, also requesting anonymity, told The Daily Signal that any appropriations bill with such a rider attached was certain to be vetoed by Obama.
“The flaw in that argument is that the president would then veto the legislation with the rider included,” the staff member said in an email, adding:
If the underlying bill was a [full-year] omnibus, that would cause a government shutdown. And even if the rest of the government were to shut down, CIS would continue to operate (and implement the president’s executive order) given that it is fee funded, and does not rely on appropriations.
The staff member added that House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., “is adamantly opposed to the president’s purported executive action on immigration, and wants Congress to fight it tooth and nail through legislative means that will enact real change.”
This report has been modified.