House Republicans Raise Meaningless Constitutional Objection To Immigration Bill

(Credit: flickr user nfaile)

On Thursday, House Ways and Means Chair Dave Camp (R-MI) raised a clever, but ultimately meaningless objection to the immigration bill that recently passed the Senate — he claims it’s unconstitutional. According to Camp, “[t]he Senate bill is unconstitutional, as it includes a number of revenue-related measures such as fees, penalties, surcharges and the non-payment of taxes.”

The requirement that “[a]ll bills for raising revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives” does indeed appear in the Constitution, but it is a largely toothless provision. The very next clause provides that “the Senate may propose or concur with amendments [to revenue bills] as on other Bills.” So the Senate routinely complies with this requirement by taking a minor House bill that includes some revenue provisions, and passing an amendment to that bill which replaces it with the Senate’s intended legislation. Because the Constitution’s text places no limits on the Senate’s ability to amend House legislation, this is a valid maneuver that overcomes constitutional objections.

And even in cases where the Senate does not jump through this hoop before sending a bill to the House, it is simply untrue, as Camp claims, that “any consideration of the Senate bill in the House would also be unconstitutional.” If the House wants to consider a bill containing new revenues that was first passed in the Senate, all it has to do is introduce the exact same legislative language as a new bill.

So, in sum, the constitutional provision Camp relies on is a minor inconvenience, but it is nothing more than that. It provides no substantive limits on the kinds of legislation the Senate can pass, provided it takes an additional procedural step, and it certainly doesn’t prevent the House from considering any legislation it wants.