Morning Briefing: Test Vote On Tap for Immigration Plan

It’s crunch time for the Senate, which holds a test vote today on a modified immigration bill that would vastly increase border security while putting 11 million undocumented immigrants on a path to citizenship. Sponsors appear to have the 60 votes needed to stave off a filibuster by conservatives such as Jeff Sessions of Alabama and Ted Cruz of Texas but are in search of the 70 they say would improve the bill’s chances in the House. Majority Leader Harry Reid wants a vote on final passage before recess and has made procedural moves designed to accomplish that.

Today in the Senate: The chamber resumes consideration of an overhaul of immigration laws (S 744) and votes on a motion by Reid, D-Nev., to limit debate on an amendment that makes a variety of changes to the bill, including tying the legal status created for illegal immigrants to heightened border security triggers. Meets at noon with a vote on the motion at 5:30 p.m.

Today in the House: The chamber meets in a pro forma session at 11 a.m.

Today at the White House: President Barack Obama meets in the afternoon with a group of CEOs and business owners to discuss the immigration overhaul.

TEST VOTE ON IMMIGRATION PLAN: After spending the end of last week frantically wrapping up negotiations on a border security plan, the Senate votes today on whether to limit debate on a catch-all amendment that includes the border language, a series of noncontroversial proposals and compromises on other immigration-related issues.

The border deal worked out by John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Bob Corker, R-Tenn., would cost roughly $30 billion and double the number of armed officers on the southern border to about 40,000. It would also direct the government to spend billions of dollars on drones, helicopters, cameras and infrared sensors.

Under what’s come to be known as the "border surge," undocumented immigrants would only be allowed to become legal permanent residents once the added resources are put in place and a nationwide employment verification system and a better entry-exit system at the nation’s airports and seaports has been implemented.

The package also includes amendments by Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, whose vote has been vigorously courted by Democrats for weeks. They would ban Social Security benefits to undocumented workers and prevent any cash welfare payments from going to non-citizens.

CQ reporters David Harrison and Humberto Sanchez will be on hand for the vote and watching whether Reid wins agreements for votes on other amendments. Hundreds of amendments have been filed but senators have not been able to agree on a pared-down list.

BUSY WEEK FOR APPROPRIATORS: It’s shaping up to be a full week for appropriators in both chambers. Senate Appropriations subcommittees mark up the fiscal 2014 Energy-Water and Transportation-HUD spending bills on Tuesday, with full committee consideration of both measures scheduled on Thursday.

In the House, the full Appropriations Committee marks up the same pair of bills on Wednesday.

The $44.1 billion House Transportation-HUD measure has received attention for its $1.3 billion in recommended cuts to the Community Development Block Grant program compared with the fiscal 2013 enacted level, or a roughly 45 percent reduction. Funding for Amtrak, which would get $950 million, would also be slashed by $468 million compared with the fiscal 2013 enacted level.

HUD’s Public and Indian Housing account, which contains funding for Section 8 vouchers, would see $24.9 billion under the bill, a $953 million cut. And the Federal Aviation Administration, which would be funded at $11.8 billion, would see a $ 756 million cut compared with the fiscal 2013 enacted level.

SUPREME COURT DECISIONS LOOM: Saving its best for last, the Supreme Court this week may decide high-profile cases involving same-sex marriage, voting rights and affirmative action before the current term comes to a close.

We’ll be watching for congressional reaction if the justices rule on the constitutionality of a 1996 federal law that defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman, as well as a 2008 California ballot initiative that banned same-sex marriage. Challenges to both measures were argued in March.

The 17-year-old U.S. law, which was passed by a Republican Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton, denies more than 1,000 federal benefits to gay couples, even if those couples are married legally under state law. A ruling against it could lead to nationwide legalization of such unions.

The high court also is likely to rule on a challenge to a section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that requires areas with a history of discrimination to "preclear" any changes to their voting procedures with the Justice Department. The outcome of the case, argued in February, could be influenced by steps Congress took when it reauthorized the provision in 2006.

The court may additionally decide a case argued last year dealing with whether the University of Texas may consider the race of its applicants in trying to ensure a diverse student body. The prospect of a decision striking down such racial preferences spurred members of Congress to file legal briefs defending the practice.

Justices could still decide to extend the term another week and stretch out the release of decisions.

SENATE PLOTS JULY STRATEGY: Senate Democrats are planning a narrow agenda after the Fourth of July break, focusing on infrastructure and other domestic needs through action on fiscal 2014 spending bills and attempts to confirm presidential nominees.

CQ’s Alan K. Ota writes that Reid is unlikely to act on several items on Obama’s middle-class agenda, including a proposal to raise the hourly minimum wage of $7.25.

Reid can instead select from four appropriations bills — Agriculture, Military Construction-VA, Energy-Water, and Transportation-HUD. Of those, the Agriculture and Military Construction-VA bills offer the best chance for bipartisan Senate agreement. Appropriations marked up both last week with 23-6 bipartisan tallies, even though their funding levels would outstrip both the administration requests and the House versions of the bills.

Democrats reassessed their near-term strategy after last week’s House defeat of a farm bill (HR 1947), which aides said suggests stalemate is likely to continue on prominent issues such as a fiscal 2014 budget resolution and a possible plan to raise the federal borrowing limit. Reid expressed new doubts about cutting deals with House Republican leaders after the vote.

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— Adriel Bettelheim, Morning Briefing editor,, on Twitter @abettel

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