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Immigration reform: House Democrats try rare procedure to force a vote (Updated)

Democrat House members, including Xavier Becerra of L.A., are citing a new budget report as they use a 100-year-old procedure to try forcing a House vote.
Democrat House members, including Xavier Becerra of L.A., are citing a new budget report as they use a 100-year-old procedure to try forcing a House vote.
Kitty Felde/KPCC

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House Democrats are making one final push this spring to force a vote on immigration reform. They're citing new budget numbers that show changes in immigration policy could cut the deficit by $200 billion over the next decade, and the lawmakers will use a rare procedure that was used 100 years ago to check the power of another Republican Speaker of the House.

Immigration activists are frustrated with the lack of progress on Capitol Hill. The Senate passed a reform measure last June; the House has yet to take up a comprehensive bill. House Democrats have introduced their own comprehensive measure, co-sponsored by a pair of Central Valley Republicans, Jeff Denham and David Valadao. That bill has yet to get a hearing, let alone a vote.

The Congressional Budget Office on Tuesday sent a letter to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, assessing HR 15 — the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act. The budget office hasn't completed a "full, comprehensive cost estimate for H.R. 15," however, the bill is quite similar to the bill passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee, which would reduce the federal budget deficit by about $200 billion between 2015-2024.

Armed with this new data, Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra says on Wednesday House Democrats will begin gathering signatures for a “discharge petition” that would force a floor vote on HR 15. The L.A. lawmaker says, "We’re not asking Speaker Boehner to vote 'yes' for comprehensive immigration reform. We’re just asking that he give those members of Congress the chance to do what we got elected to do. And that’s vote."

Discharge petitions were originally created to check the power of “Uncle” Joe Cannon, then Speaker of the House, for whom a House office building is named. 

Democrats would need 218 signatures – including from several Republicans. According to a report from the Congressional Research Service, just seven discharge petitions have succeeded over the past three decades, including the 2002 vote on the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform measure.

The Democrat-led effort is expected to get few — if any — Republican signatures. Central Valley GOP Congressman Jeff Denham, one of HR 15's co-sponsors, says he won't sign the discharge petition. He says he wants to work through the committee process, adding he's "going to continue to pressure and push my conference on coming to a solution and offering other bills."

The other Central Valley Republican co-sponsor of that bill, David Valadao of Hanford, also says he won't sign. His spokeswoman says it wouldn't be "legislatively productive," even though the Congressman understands the "frustration" of Democrats. She says signing would "discredit him" with rank-and-file Republicans: "They won’t take his word the way they they do now."

Last month, House Democrats launched a similar petition to raise the minimum wage, which so far has not achieved the necessary 218 signatures.