Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 11, 2016

Democrats Whipping Ayotte Amendment, With Immigration Politics Center Stage

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 11:13 p.m. | Senate Democrats have begun whipping an amendment from Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., to the stalled jobless benefits bill, hoping to use it as a political hammer against GOP senators who are looking to the measure to cater to their conservative bases.

Sources confirmed that Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin’s vote-counting operation over the weekend started gauging whether Democrats could stand firm against the proposal that would eliminate tax credits for the children of undocumented immigrants, millions of whom are American citizens. Similar legislation previously had been championed by Sens. David Vitter, R-La., and Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., who lacked support for the initiative and failed in multiple attempts to bring it to the floor.

Democrats say they are checking with their caucus to ensure they would have enough votes to block the Ayotte measure in the event they offer a vote on it to Republicans in exchange for support on cloture of the bill. The result would be a rare political test vote that could be embraced by both parties in the opening days of 2014. Republicans fearful of primaries can prove their conservative bona fides “by stopping a scheme that currently [benefits] illegal immigrants,” according to a press advisory last week. Democrats in turn can use the measure as an example of how the GOP is anti-immigrant to the point of taking punitive measure against millions of legal citizens, even in the chamber that approved a comprehensive immigration overhaul.From the Roll Call story last week, on Democrats’ concerns with the Ayotte bill:

But the Democrats’ bigger issue with the proposal is just who would be affected by eliminating the “loophole” created by not requiring Social Security numbers to qualify for the Additional Child Tax Credit. Any person born in the United States is by Constitutional definition a United States citizen, even if their parents are not. According to a Pew Hispanic analysis in 2010 (the most recent of its kind), more than 4 million American-born children of undocumented parents lived in the U.S. — nearly 80 percent of all children of undocumented immigrant parents under the age of 18.

It’s not yet clear whether Republicans will find any Democrats to join them in this effort, though a potential target is a member like Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., who consistently has demonstrated a willingness to break ranks. Backers of the GOP effort point to a 2011 Treasury Inspector General report finding billions in refundable tax credits going to people not qualified to work in the United States. That report suggested that Congress pass legislation clarifying the issue.

“The payment of Federal funds through this tax benefit appears to provide an additional incentive for aliens to enter, reside, and work in the United States without authorization, which contradicts Federal law and policy to remove such incentives,” the report said.

Meanwhile, the prospects of approving an extension of the lapsed, long-term unemployment benefits lost by 1.3 million Americans seemed to wane at the end of last week. Republicans are demanding the cost of the patch be fully offset, but have yet to offer an alternative to Democrats that would be politically viable. Many of the six Republicans who supported opening debate on the bill have said they will not vote to close debate unless those pay-fors are present. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has expressed an openness to amendments but told CQ Roll Call that the two ideas floated by the GOP, the Ayotte amendment and delaying the Obamacare individual mandate by a year, “aren’t too good.” He characterized the Ayotte plan as “going after little kids.”

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