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Debt Limit, Highways Wait as Republicans Tackle Sanctuary Cities

Vitter is behind bills on sanctuary cities and toxic substances. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)
Vitter is behind bills on sanctuary cities and toxic substances. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

Senators return to Washington this week facing a crush of must-pass legislation, but before the chamber can get to the debt limit or highway funding, Republicans want to express outrage over “sanctuary cities.”  

A Republican proposal to cut federal funding to cities that defy immigration laws is expected to be blocked by Democrats when the Senate gets back to work Tuesday. “Kate Steinle’s brutal murder at the hands of an illegal immigrant remains a raw, painful memory. Tuesday, the U.S. Senate will vote to stop rewarding sanctuary cities for providing a safe haven for illegal immigrants. Rather than reward cities, we must start enforcing our current immigration laws and strengthen our borders to keep Americans here safe at home,” Sen. David Vitter, the sponsor of the legislation set for a Tuesday test vote, said in a statement to CQ Roll Call.  

Assuming the Senate does not move ahead with debate on the Louisiana Republican’s bill, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will have some choices to make before what seem to be inevitable debates over funding the nation’s highway programs and raising the debt ceiling.  

A pair of measures has been in the queue for Senate floor consideration for what seems like months: an overhaul of cybersecurity laws and a bill to enhance protections against toxic substances. But until the Kentucky Republican makes an announcement, the way forward won’t be certain.  

As of late last week, there had been no breakthroughs in the effort to reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a measure that is also holding up consideration of the toxic substances bill (coincidentally also spearheaded by Vitter). If that situation’s resolved, it could be a big week at the Capitol for Vitter, who has been in the midst of a gubernatorial campaign back home.  

Before lawmakers headed home, Vitter, Democratic co-sponsor Tom Udall of New Mexico and a coalition of supporters including Bonnie Lautenberg, the widow of Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg of New Jersey, appeared on Capitol Hill to push for quick action on the measure.  

Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard M. Burr, R-N.C., and ranking member Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., continue to press for floor time for an overhaul of cybersecurity programs.  

Appearing with Feinstein at a Chamber of Commerce event earlier this month, Burr said he was anticipating the bill could come up after the October break, and that seems more likely.  

“It’s my hope that it will come up as soon as we come back from recess,” Burr said. “We have both pestered our leadership to death to make sure that it comes up.”  

Burr and Feinstein have broad support, but also no shortage of opposition. That contingent is led by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who has warned repeatedly against a cybersecurity information sharing bill that could actually be another surveillance program in practice.  

Wyden told CQ Roll Call after Burr and Feinstein appeared at the chamber event that he will not consent to a shortened debate or amendment process on the cybersecurity legislation that’s awaiting consideration on the Senate floor. Long a skeptic of the bill, the Oregon Democrat said he thought recently announced opposition from some businesses signaled the tide was turning.  

But that’s all just a prelude to the major business before the Congress before Thanksgiving — raising the debt limit and resolving highway funding issues.  

The most recent estimate from Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew pegs the date the extraordinary measures used to avert exceeding the borrowing authority will run out by Nov. 3, which happens to be when a large batch of Social Security checks are scheduled to be sent out. And it is just days before that when the current stopgap extension of authorities for the Highway Trust Fund expires, meaning that senators could ill-afford to get bogged down with the sanctuary cities bill, the cybersecurity legislation or the toxic substances package.  

Ryan Lucas contributed to this report.

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