House Democrats return from brief recess for unfinished business

House Democrats are set to approve $26 billion in emergency state aid, fight off a lame-duck lockout and pass a border-security bill before they wrap up their work period Tuesday and repack their bags for home.

The unusual August work session was prompted by the Senate’s surprise passage last week — after the House had recessed until mid-September — of a $26 billion package of teacher and Medicaid funding for states.

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A second surprise out of the upper chamber — passage of a $600 million border-security measure by unanimous consent Thursday night — forced House leaders to add yet another item to the agenda.

While Democrats don’t expect many hurdles in passing the Medicaid and teacher-funding bill, they had to scramble Monday to head off a massive procedural problem with border security legislation.

The problem stemmed from the Senate passing its own revenue-raising bill rather than legislation that originated in the House.

Under the Constitution, bills that raise revenue must originate in the House. Democrats in the lower chamber spent much of the day weighing the cost of introducing a new bill that allayed Constitutional concerns but that risked putting the legislation on hold until September.

In the end, leadership decided to introduce new border-security legislation, House aides said Monday night. This will force the Senate to vote again on the legislation. Unless the Senate breaks up its recess, the legislation won’t go to President Obama until at least September, but Democrats decided that was better than risking a court challenge to the legislation.

As Democrats huddled to discuss their options, they were getting new reminders of the political stakes involved in the border-security issue.

On Monday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican running for reelection, greeted President Obama in Austin with a letter calling on the White House to send an additional 1,000 additional National Guard troops to secure the border with Mexico.

Perry said Obama should also send unmanned aerial drones to keep the border safe from drug traffickers.

The Senate bill would provide funding for an additional 1,000 border patrol agents and for hundreds of additional federal authorities, as well as facilitate the deployment of aerial drones.

If House Democrats opt to introduce a new bill, it will most likely resemble a $700 million border security measure that the chamber passed just prior to the beginning of the August break.

Numerous conservative Democrats were pushing for passage of such a bill, and even the most ardent supporters of broad immigration reform said action is needed.

A spokesman for Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), one of the most vocal critics of Arizona’s new immigration law, said he supports the border security measures that have passed both the House and Senate.

Still, some advocates for a broader immigration overhaul criticized the move as political pandering.

“We’re disappointed but not surprised that politicians are reaching for the border-security grab-bag right before the August recess,” said Lynn Tramonte, deputy director of America’s Voice, a group pushing for comprehensive immigration reform. “Unless you do the rest of reform, you’re not going to have a system that works.”

Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, dismissed the Senate-passed bill as a “Band-Aid” advanced by Senate Democrats who were “succumbing to crass political considerations, rather than sound policymaking.”

Amid the confusion over the border-security measure, Democrats tried to highlight the GOP’s expected opposition to the $26 billion state aid bill.

“Taking a page out of the failed Bush playbook, congressional Republicans want to saddle future generations with nearly $700 billion in debt to extend tax cuts for the wealthiest few, while opposing a fully paid-for jobs bill that reduces the deficit and keeps teachers in the classroom and police officers on the beat,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement.

On Tuesday, Democrats will have to contend with a privileged resolution from Rep. Tom Price (Ga.), the chairman of the Republican Study Committee, that would prevent Congress from holding any post-election “lame-duck” session except in the case of a national emergency.

“I am asking every member of the House to take a pledge not to trample on the will of their constituents in a lame-duck session,” Price said in a statement. “It is the very least that Americans should be able to expect from their representatives in Congress.”

Senior Democratic aides said on Monday that they expect to deal with all three bills by the end of the day Tuesday.