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Eli Kantor is a labor, employment and immigration law attorney. He has been practicing labor, employment and immigration law for more than 36 years. He has been featured in articles about labor, employment and immigration law in the L.A. Times, Business Week.com and Daily Variety. He is a regular columnist for the Daily Journal. Telephone (310)274-8216; eli@elikantorlaw.com. For more information, visit beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com and and beverlyhillsemploymentlaw.com


Monday, November 15, 2021

GOP strategy on spending bill: Make Dems take tough votes


Republicans are planning their lines of attack against President Biden's spending bill as they gear up to try to water down the legislation and squeeze Democrats with tough votes. 

After months of being stuck on the sidelines as Democrats haggled over the legislation, Senate Republicans will soon get their chance to change the bill. 

Republicans are hoping to replicate some of their success from a budget fight earlier this year where they were able to secure several nonbinding changes but also gather fodder to use against Democrats in the 2022 midterms.

"We usually have buckets and there's kind of a rhyme or reason or methodology to our madness," said Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican. "There's a strategy to it, and particular issues that we want to get votes on." 

The House could vote on the social and climate spending bill as soon as next week, teeing it up for consideration in the Senate. Because Democrats are using arcane budget rules to bypass the threat of a GOP filibuster, they have to go through a chaotic floor process known as vote-a-rama. 

That process, which frequently goes all night, allows senators to force a vote on any change to the measure. It gives Republicans their best shot at influencing the bill, which they are all expected to oppose in the end, with many amendments only needing a simple majority to be added. That means if Republicans can peel off just one Democrat, while keeping their own caucus unified, they could get their idea into the legislation or water down a provision that they oppose. 

"There is a process on amendments, and you can be assured that we'll have a robust amendment process during the vote-a-rama," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters during a recent press conference. 

Republicans took a similar tack on a coronavirus relief bill earlier this year, where concerns that they could peel off Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) on an unemployment amendment threw the bill into limbo for hours as Democrats tried to cut a deal with Manchin. 

Republicans could try to peel  off Manchin - who has pushed back on paid leave language, a nicotine tax and climate provisions - and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) as well as Democrats up for election next year.

"The best thing we can do if we want to change the bill, or derail it ... you've got to figure out a way you can make amendments attractive to Dems," Thune said. 

The Democrats' bill, while still being negotiated in the Senate, touches on a broad sweep of policy areas, including housing, child care, education, climate change, immigration and tax reform. 

No Republican is expected to vote for the legislation in the House or the Senate, with GOP lawmakers labeling it a "reckless tax and spending spree." 

Republicans have already had two early wins, with the Senate parliamentarian warning Democrats that two plans to provide a pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrants didn't comply with rules governing what can be passed under the budget process. Republican staffers made the argument to the Senate referee that the two plans didn't fall within the scope of reconciliation, though activists are now urging Democrats to ignore the guidance. 

As they await the bill, Republicans are launching symbolic attempts to slow down the legislation. McConnell and top GOP senators sent Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) a letter calling for both a Congressional Budget Office score, which analyzes the cost of a bill, and hearings.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), the top Republican on the Budget Committee, said that he would invite the research group behind the Penn Wharton Budget Model, which predicted that the Democratic bill could cost $4 trillion over a decade if all the spending and revenue provisions were made permanent, to testify. 

"Whether or not [Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie] Sanders [I-Vt.] allows me to do that as part of the committee, I will do that as a side event," he said. 

But Senate Democrats are expected to bring the bill, once it passes the House, directly to the floor, meaning Republicans' best shot is at making changes amid the vote-a-rama.

Graham pointed to three areas that would be prime for attempted GOP changes once the legislation is on the Senate floor: the electric vehicle tax credit, immigration and a plan to extend the child tax credit. 

"This reconciliation bill is a fraud. It's going to be pouring gasoline on the inflation problems we have in the country and it rewards special interests at the expense of the public. I take issue with both the process and the substance," Graham said.

Sen. Rick Scott (Fla.), who chairs the Senate GOP campaign arm, has also targeted a plan to lift the state and local tax (SALT) deduction cap. House Democrats are looking at raising the deduction cap from $10,000 to $80,000 through 2030, while Senate Democrats are looking at leaving the $10,000 cap in place but exempting taxpayers with incomes between $400,000 and $550,000.

Scott accused Democrats of creating a "carve-out " and "huge tax breaks for their rich friends in liberal, high-tax states with a massive SALT cap repeal."

Republicans also got nonbinding amendments included in a budget resolution earlier this year that greenlit the spending bill, providing a potential map for GOP senators on what amendments could be prime for Democratic support. The nonbinding amendments Republicans were able to get into the budget resolution include proposals on opposing defunding the police, preserving the Hyde Amendment, hiring 100,000 police officers and nonbinding immigration language. 

Thune said he, Graham and GOP senators from key committees will vet the GOP amendments ahead of time, though he acknowledged that vote-a-rama can be a "wide open game" because any senator can force an amendment. 

"We try to figure out what the universe is as much as possible. We prioritize them," he said. "We have a way of figuring out what we want to get voted on."'

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