Last week marked the end of the first quarter of the 112th Congress. With more than 100 new Members of the House and Senate, the 112th Congress opened for business with the largest Freshman class in 60 years. Likewise, 51 Members returned NumbersUSA candidate surveys during the 2010 election cycle. Many of them even indicated they were true reformers and promised to uphold policies to reduce legal and illegal immigration.
Considering the size of this freshman class, I think it is appropriate to give NumbersUSA members a progress report about how the “new guys” are doing, including emerging leaders and those who need improvement.
While this Congress was destined for some tough fights considering a sizable Republican majority in the House, a Democrat-controlled Senate, and a President not prone to compromise, the best word to describe the first quarter of this Congress is: slow. In addition, the freshmen have been consistently behind whether moving into their offices or finding staff, which is understandable considering the number of new Members, limited office space, and committee assignments.
While four senior Members achieved 5-for-5 status (have cosponsored our top five bills) during this quarter, many of the freshmen Members are still trying to find their voice and are playing catch-up on a number of issues including immigration.
Representatives Walter Jones and Sue Myrick of North Carolina along with Representatives John Carter and Kenny Marchant of Texas have cosponsored our top 5 bills and have earned “A+” grades in the process. These Members of Congress deserve a special pat on the back for standing up for the immigration issue while so much of the media and legislative attention has focused on the budget and spending priorities.
However, there is only one freshman Member who has achieved 5-for-5 status in the first quarter, and that Member is David McKinley of West Virginia. Unlike his predecessor who consistently earned an “F” grade on immigration, Congressman McKinley is looking at an “A+.” His staff has been eager to approach this issue as good politics and sound policy.
Furthermore, the Congressman himself is committed to the issue. I had the opportunity to meet with David McKinley during the campaign. I asked him where he stood on immigration and handed him a candidate survey. He gave me solid answers including why we need better border security and how uncontrolled immigration has a negative impact on jobs.
Likewise, a few days later he mailed in his candidate survey and marked “yes” to every question, indicating that he was a “true reform” candidate. Congressman McKinley has kept his promise by cosponsoring our top 5 bills and has emerged as a leader in the process. I have been really encouraged by his leadership and hope other freshmen Members will follow his example.
One the other side Capitol, the Senate has naturally moved at a slower pace than the House. There have been fewer bills introduced overall and only a handful of those relate to immigration. The Senate, at this point, does not have a 5-for-5 benchmark like the House. However, we have been encouraged by the few bills that have been introduced including Senator Orrin Hatch’s S.332 to end the Visa Lottery Program (among many provisions), Senator David Vitter’s S.86 to prevent illegal aliens from holding credit cards, and Senator Vitter’s S. 169 to fight sanctuary cities.
On the other hand, we have seen some freshman leaders emerge in the Senate including former 5-for-5 club member Senator John Boozman who has been able to open doors and bring a fresh voice to the debate. With the Senate narrowly controlled by the Democrats, it is important to have someone who can debate the issue constructively with some Senators who have been in office for decades.
Outside of new bills and Members, there has been progress made in the House committees, setting the stage for possibly moving legislation later this year. The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement actually held more hearings in the first quarter than the same Subcommittee did all of last Congress. Chairman Lamar Smith is passionate about immigration reform, understands the issue very well, and is determined to see movement this Congress, especially on E-Verify and eliminating the Visa Lottery Program (H.R.704). The E-Verify program is set to expire 2012 unless it is reauthorized.
Next quarter, we’ll enter appropriations season for FY2012 where Members should have plenty of opportunities to offer amendments on a range of issues from E-Verify to sanctuary cities and beyond. Expect to see some important votes and lively debate during this process. Likewise, expect to see some more Members join the 5-for-5 club. Freshmen Representatives Allen West and Rich Nugent of Florida along with Bill Flores of Texas just need to cosponsor two more bills. Perhaps David McKinley and Lou Barletta with his new Freshman Immigration Reform Caucus can help nudge them in the right direction.
After all, by the end of next quarter, there will be no more excuses and only policy decisions to defend.
JONATHAN OSBORNE is the Chief Legislative Analyst for NumbersUSA