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Climate and Health Bill Could Contain Immigration “Poison Pills”

Aug 5, 2022

The U.S. Capitol building backlit by morning sunlight, with a blue sky and light, thin lines of clouds emanating from behind the rotunda.

Democrats are preparing for a series of difficult votes on anti-immigration amendments likely to be offered by Republicans during the next step of the budget reconciliation process, which Democrats are using to pass the climate, health care, and inflation bill.

Budget reconciliation can be used in some situations to pass a budget, along with other policy changes or provisions, with a simple 50-vote majority in the Senate rather than the 60-vote majority normally required. The reconciliation process requires a series of procedural steps, including review by the Senate parliamentarian to make sure the bill complies with Senate rules, and a step known as “vote-a-rama,” during which Senators can offer a virtually unlimited number of amendments to the bill.

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Senator Joe Manchin, D-W.Va and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., reached an unexpected deal on the climate and inflation bill last week, which Democrats hope to pass through the reconciliation process to avoid a Republican filibuster. The final Democratic holdout, Senator Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., agreed to a revised version of Manchin’s bill Thursday night.

With the vote-a-rama scheduled for Saturday, Republican senators intend to force vulnerable, moderate Democrats to take votes on divisive immigration topics, such as attempting to codify Title 42 or restart former President Donald Trump’s border wall.

Some Democrats fear that if Republicans can force votes on these “poison pill” amendments to the package — particularly on immigration — it could divide Democrats and possibly put the entire bill in jeopardy. Democratic Senators facing tough reelection campaigns, like Senators Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., or Catherine Cortez Masto, D.-Nev., might feel pressure to vote for the amendments to keep their seats.

Others who might vote for the possible amendments include Senators Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz. All these Senators are co-sponsors of a bill that would make Title 42 permanent. Since the Senate is evenly divided, Democrats cannot afford to lose any votes.

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., a long-time champion for immigration reform, warned Democrats against voting for Republican amendments on issues such as immigration that could threaten the overall reconciliation legislation. “Adoption of amendments that would end access to asylum or expand Trump’s border wall will not repair our broken immigration and will put reconciliation at risk,” Menendez tweeted on Monday.

Of course, the passage of any of these anti-immigration amendments would also be a bad outcome by further dismantling the already decimated asylum system, further militarizing the southwestern border, and generally further damaging the immigration system.

There are no procedural measures to prevent the vote-a-rama, which could take place as soon as this weekend. It’s not yet clear how Senate Democrats will respond, though they expect to work through the weekend and potentially delay the August recess.

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