COMPASS: Congress prepares to fund Biden’s border policies

March 19th, 2024

Good afternoon from Capitol Hill. 

The House and Senate are both in session this week, staring down yet another government funding deadline on Friday. On the table is another “minibus” – a set of 6 appropriations bills that fund roughly three-quarters of federal discretionary spending and cover everything from the Department of Health and Human Services to Homeland Security. 

While each appropriations bill contains its own set of challenges and policy fights, the DHS appropriations bill is at the center of this package. And despite the unprecedented crisis at the border, reporting suggests that the deal cut between Johnson and the White House will not address any policies designed to slow it down. (At the time of this writing, text of the measure has not been released.)

Over 40 House Republicans, led by House Freedom Caucus Chair Rep. Bob Good and Rep. Chip Roy, called on their colleagues to reject the DHS appropriations measure until it “forces inclusion of the core elements of H.R. 2, the Secure the Border Act.” 

“At some point,” they write, “border security has to be more than something aspirational that we simply message on. Is there a point at which we will refuse to let this happen on our watch, or is there no threshold of harm to our nation for which we would refuse to fund the government perpetrating the invasion?”

In the House, it appears that Speaker Mike Johnson will again use the chamber’s suspension calendar to pass these bills as one giant package without any opportunity for amendments. The suspension calendar requires a higher numerical threshold for passage – 290 votes, as opposed to the usual simple majority of 218 – which means it is again possible that more Democrats vote for the packaged legislation than Republicans. 

Speaker Johnson has also indicated his willingness to use the suspension process – which again bars any amendments and requires the participation of Democrats to move legislation – to move Ukraine and Israel aid. Last month the Senate passed a combined emergency supplemental spending bill containing aid to Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan, and a host of other priorities. Johnson said last week that he’s considering splitting Ukraine and Israel aid into two separate bills which he would move to after the government funding debate.

In other news, yesterday the Supreme Court heard arguments in Murthy v Missouri (formerly Missouri v Biden), a blockbuster free speech case originally filed by then-Attorneys General Jeff Landry (new Louisiana governor) and Eric Schmitt (now senator from Missouri). The suit alleges that the Biden administration’s hand-in-glove work with the social media companies to suppress disfavored speech during the COVID-19 pandemic violated the First Amendment. Both a Louisiana district court and the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the plaintiffs. 

But the Supreme Court justices did not seem as keen on the states’ arguments. You can listen to the entire argument here, including the now viral quote from Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson where she appeared to critique the attorney representing the states for having a view that “has the First Amendment hamstringing the federal government in significant ways in the most important time periods.” Some may feel that, despite her best intentions, Justice Jackson yesterday stumbled into the point of the First Amendment.

Both Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Elena Kagan pulled on their prior White House experiences (Kavanaugh in the George W. Bush White House and Kagan in the Clinton and Obama White Houses) to argue that the exchanges between the White House and the social media companies were mostly routine. “It’s probably not uncommon for government officials to protest an upcoming story on surveillance or detention policy and say, ‘If you run that, it’s going to harm the war effort and put Americans at risk,’” Kavanaugh said at one point

Just a reminder that the type of exchanges between the White House and the social media companies consisted of expletives from the White House when the social media companies didn’t act on their directives quickly enough, weekly meetings between the executive branch and the social media companies, and statements from the White House about the executive branch and the speech corporations being “on the same team.”

Check out argument summaries from SCOTUSblog, the New York Post, and the Wall Street Journal. I recently discussed some aspects of this case – including why I think the speech arguments are actually downstream of the concentrated market power of the platforms – with Independent Women’s Forum’s Inez Stepman on her podcast, High Noon.

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One More Thing…

The flood of migrants at the southern border is a huge problem for the country, but maybe the President doesn’t want to deal with it because it’s powering his economy? Semafor pointed to a new report from Bookings to support this claim: 

A recent report from Brookings concludes that the big pool of new workers, including asylum seekers, may be the reason businesses have been able to keep adding jobs at an unexpectedly fast pace over the past year without putting as much pressure on wages or inflation. The impact is large, too: The report suggests that payrolls can sustainably grow by 160,000 to 200,000 jobs a month, currently, up from an estimate of 60,000 to 100,000 without the [illegal] immigration bump.

Add to this the February report from the Center for Immigration Studies, demonstrating that compared to 2019, all employment growth in the fourth quarter of 2023 went to foreign-born workers and the President’s economic growth arguments are beginning to look not only illusory – but potentially an internal justification for failing to control the border.