Speaker Paul Ryan’s honeymoon with fellow conservatives has been tested in the House over the contentious omnibus spending bill, and it’s come to a jolting halt for one member of the Senate.
After the House passed the massive spending bill Friday, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., attacked Ryan by name over permitting an expansion of the H-2B visa program for low-skilled “guest workers.”
“Blithely dismissing the just concerns of the great majority of American voters, and especially Republican voters, is not a wise course for the Republican speaker,” Sessions said in a prepared statement.
In question are H-2B visas designed to allow low-skilled foreign workers to take temporary blue-collar jobs in the United States. A provision in the 2,009-page spending bill increases the program’s eligibility cap from 66,000 workers to 264,000.
Sessions, a critic of current immigration enforcement practices, argues that the program disenfranchises Republican voters and endangers American jobs.
Ryan dismissed criticism of the program Thursday during an appearance on Michael Medved’s radio show:
The H-2B worker provision in here … it’s, like, 8,000 temporary workers for one year, is all this provision provides. … [B]ut I think there are those who for various reasons are trying to make a mountain out of a molehill, making an issue something that it isn’t.
An aide in the speaker’s office told The Daily Signal that Ryan had no role in crafting the specific change to immigration law. Instead, the aide said, the program is a product of committee action.
“I want committees driving the process,” Ryan said at a press conference Thursday. “I want committees writing the legislation, and that’s what happened here.”
The legislation in question was voted out of the Appropriations Committee before Ryan even picked up the speaker’s gavel in late October. The panel approved it by a vote of 32-17 on July 21.
Since becoming speaker six weeks ago after John Boehner, R-Ohio, resigned from the post, Ryan has made a top priority out of going back to the process known inside Washington as regular order.
During the appropriations process, Ryan’s office sought input from rank-and-file members and hosted policy conferences to field concerns.
Sessions. however, still blames Ryan and House leadership for the expanded guest workers provision.
“There was no effort to protect American jobs, wages, and communities from uncontrolled immigration,” the Alabama Republican said.
“Congress has no desire to ever protect Americans from uncontrolled immigration,” he added.
Ryan rejects that narrative, saying that the omnibus spending bill is the product of compromise. The speaker told Medved:
We scored major policy wins for conservatives—for our country—in this bill … we advanced our principles. Did we advance all of our principles as far as we want to go? No, because we’re in divided government. But we did advance them in the right direction.
Ryan plans to overhaul the appropriations process in the next Congress. A vocal opponent of omnibus spending bills, Ryan has said the House will approve spending bills one at a time rather than all together in a single lump package.