Politics & Policy

Benefits for Border Crossers?

Representative Patrick McHenry and Senator Chuck Grassley
Federal handouts are the latest front in the war on Obama’s amnesty, and House and Senate Republicans are once again clashing over strategy.

House and Senate Republicans are once again at odds over how to fight President Obama’s executive amnesty. After Republicans in Congress caved in the battle over funding the Department of Homeland Security last month, a new disagreement in the GOP now looms on how best to prevent illegal immigrants from receiving federal benefits under the president’s executive actions.

When Representative Patrick McHenry (R., N.C.) learned that the IRS intends to pay the illegal-immigrant beneficiaries of the president’s executive actions via the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), he sprang into action. He introduced the “No Free Rides Act,” which blocks every illegal-immigrant beneficiary of the president’s executive actions from ever claiming the EITC.

“I think when the average American taxpayer knows the president, through his executive order, grants illegal immigrants up to $24,000 from the American treasury, they’ll be outraged,” McHenry says. “This is such a glaring example of the problem with the president’s executive action, when you create a new class of individuals that can utilize something that’s intended for low-income Americans . . . something that seems, on its face, so unfair to the American taxpayer.”

For now, the congressman’s staff says it has chosen to focus singularly on the EITC and not on other benefits the unlawful entrants may collect, such as the additional child tax credit or Social Security benefits due to kick in in 2017. While his office expects that future legislation may address other problems caused by the president’s actions, McHenry’s staff says it prefers to attack the Obama administration on one issue at a time with “single rifle shots.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Republicans in the Senate aren’t willing to go as far as McHenry and his GOP colleagues in the House. If the No Free Rides Act is a “single rifle shot,” the bill introduced by Iowa senator Chuck Grassley and co-sponsored by ten of his Republican colleagues is a half-shot. Grassley’s bill, like McHenry’s, would prevent beneficiaries of the president’s November 2014 executive actions from retroactively claiming EITC payments for work they had done as illegal immigrants prior to Obama’s amnesty. This component of Grassley’s legislation would prevent approximately $1.7 billion in new payments via the EITC, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation.

But unlike McHenry’s bill, Grassley’s legislation would not stop the unlawful-entrant beneficiaries from collecting cash payments via the EITC for work done in the future, after Obama’s actions are fully implemented.

“This tax credit is meant to help the working poor get into the workforce, it isn’t meant to benefit individuals who aren’t authorized to work in the United States,” Grassley said in a statement. “The tax code shouldn’t reward those who broke our immigration laws.”

But the senator’s legislation would still “reward those who broke our immigration laws” so long as Obama rewards them with work authorization first. Grassley, an outspoken hawk on immigration, is comfortable letting unlawful entrants collect the EITC in future years.

“Senator Grassley’s bill is concerned with the back status, the work done when people were working in the United States illegally,” says Grassley spokeswoman Jill Gerber. “Once the worker gets the permit or proper permission under President Obama’s plan, he or she will qualify for the credit.”

Grassley and the other Senate Republicans pushing the bill prefer its imperfect solution to McHenry’s more comprehensive, hard-line legislation, which they fear would struggle to survive the president’s veto.

Other conservatives appear intent on going even further, bypassing McHenry and Grassley’s legislation in order to repair the collateral damage caused by the president’s executive actions. A congressional source tells NRO that several conservatives are contemplating using the appropriations process to gut the executive actions altogether and prevent the EITC from ever reaching unlawful entrants. Specifically, conservatives are considering inserting language into the base appropriations for several federal departments — including the Departments of Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, and Labor — to deny immigration benefits such as tax credits, Social Security benefits, work permits, and the federal government’s resettlement operations to relocate illegal immigrants across the U.S.

McHenry says he will pursue every opportunity to see his legislation enacted, and his staffers say they are spoiling for a fight with their liberal colleagues. Aides to the congressman acknowledge that GOP senators may have more difficulty adopting the House’s approach because of the senators’ larger constituencies, but they add that Representative McHenry’s bill fits more closely with the American people’s position. Whether Republicans in the upper chamber have the stomach for more tense negotiations remains to be seen, but the longer they wait, the more problems they are likely to discover.

“I don’t know that we fully foresaw what would happen [already],” McHenry says. “It’s hard to conceive of all of the ramifications of the president’s illegal executive orders, so we’re still trying to work through that.”

One way or another, if Republicans in both chambers fail once again to present a united front on the issue, illegal immigrants may soon claim thousands of dollars from the IRS in the form of tax credits that are unavailable to many American citizens. Such action would essentially further entrench the president’s amnesty one check at a time.

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