Sens. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) and Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.) have been struggling for over a year to win support for an overhaul of the EB-5 visa program, which gives green cards to up to 10,000 foreign investors a year.
Now they say they would rather see the program die than continue as is.
The chairman and ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee said on the Senate floor Thursday that they are opposed to extending a key provision of EB-5 as part of the continuing resolution, a temporary government funding authorization before Congress this week.
“The time has come–either reform EB-5 or get rid of it,” Mr. Leahy said.
The program has become a well-used tool by real estate developers, particularly those in large cities like New York, who bundle together dozens to hundreds of foreign investors who invest $500,000 each, typically in the form of low-cost loans. The result is that many high-profile skyscrapers are funded in part through the EB-5 program.
The logjam has been a fight between the two senators and these developers–as well as their supporters in Congress, the most vocal of which has been Sen. Charles Schumer.
The developers are using a provision of the program meant to aid economically struggling areas, even though their projects are often in some of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the country. (More on that practice, known as gerrymandering, here). Messrs. Grassley and Leahy are strongly opposed to this practice, calling it an abuse that takes money away from projects in rural and low-income neighborhoods, and Mr. Grassley said the issue is “at the heart” of the controversy over EB-5.
Congress late last year failed to reach an accord when a key provision of the program was expiring, so the program was extended until Sept. 30. Lobbyists and others involved have been expecting it to once again be extended past the presidential election.
But Messrs. Grassley and Leahy appear to be betting they’ll have better luck trying to overhaul it if it’s dead.
Mr. Grassley said he hopes Congressional leaders “will find a way to include reforms in the continuing resolution or simply leave it off the table for a later date.”
Of course, if it does expire, it’s not clear there’s life after death.
Mr. Grassley noted in his floor speech that many in the Senate there are “a lot of powerful senators in this body who think this program should be done away with.”
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