Supporters of the Senate amnesty bill have for months set a goal of reaching 70 votes on final passage of the bill. They would only need 60 votes to reach cloture and block a filibuster, but argue that 70 or more votes sends a “message” to the House that the bill has overwhelming support. That may be a cogent argument in a DC parlor, but it fails to appreciate the realities of the House. The House is not a junior Chamber to the Senate.
Based on Monday’s “test vote” on the amnesty bill, the vote for cloture on the Schumer-Corker-Hoeven amendment, there are, at most 15 GOP votes for the “Gang of 8″ bill. That’s only one-third of the caucus, and didn’t included anyone in GOP Senate leadership.
“We have a minority of the minority in the Senate voting for this bill,” Rep.Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), told The New York Times. “That’s not going to put a lot of pressure on the majority of the majority in the House.” Indeed, most GOP House lawmakers are not going to be looking to Senators like Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) or Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) for policy advice. The House caucus as a whole is a lot more conservative than the Senate GOP.
Another aspect often overlooked, however, is that the Senators serve for 6-year staggered terms, but all House members have to face voters every two years. Only 3 of the GOP Senators who voted for the Corker Amendment are up for reelection next year; Sens. Graham, Alexander and Collins. The others have 2-4 years to repair any political fallout that may arise for supporting the amnesty bill.
House members, on the other hand, will face voters in less than 18 months. Only a handful of House members face competitive general elections. For most, the primary election is the campaign that wins them a seat in Congress.
Conservative and grass roots opposition to the Senate bill has been growing as details of the proposal emerge. The only certainty in the bill is that almost 11 million illegal immigrants will be legal residents in the US, with some varying paths to become citizens. Everything else, whether border security or enforcement is a promise of future action. It is just about the opposite timeline most of the public wants.
Senators can hope that, in 2-4 years, the public debate will have moved onto other issues and they can escape any blowback for supporting a flawed bill. The House members don’t have that luxury.
The Senate could pass the bill with 100 votes, and it will change little the House’s political calculus.