Now that the government is back open and there are 90 days until the next budget showdown, lawmakers’ attention has shifted back towards issues like immigration. But, despite a show of bipartisanship in the Senate, immigration reform faces a long road through the deeply divided House of Representatives.
For months, it seemed that immigration was the issue that could break the Washington gridlock. A bipartisan Senate bill was passed this spring with the support of some of the most conservative senators, including Florida’s Marco Rubio. It was clear then that immigration reform is an issue that does not cut along party lines — it’s supported nationally by a range of key voting blocs and politicians.
It’s this show of bipartisanship that leads observers like Byron York of the conservative Washington Examiner to conclude that immigration reform still has a chance to pass the House. York writes:
The reformers, led by Obama, are still trying. They have the Senate bill in their pocket. They have nearly unanimous Democratic support plus a significant number of Republicans. They have the support of powerful interest groups. And they have money, money, money.
This all may be true, but other signs point to immigration reform being completely blocked in the House.
The Senate bill is opposed by a majority of House Republicans because it contains a so-called “amnesty” clause, which allows undocumented immigrants to apply for citizenship after 13 years. House Speaker John Boehner has said the House will not vote on the Senate bill, but rather draft its own immigration legislation in a step-by-step manner.
The crux of the Senate “Gang of Eight” bill is an overhaul of the current immigration system. The overhaul expands visas for immigrants who specialize in math and science. The bill would also reduce visas for those with relatives who are U.S. citizens.
That bill will likely not get a chance in the House because of Boehner’s adherence to the “Hastert Rule.” According to ABC news, the Senate bill likely has the votes to pass the House, but Speaker Boehner will not bring it to the floor for a vote without the support of a majority of his caucus.
The only way that an immigration bill will be voted on in the House is if a compromise is reached by a committee of Democrats and Republicans. That bill would also need support of a majority of House Republicans for Speaker Boehner to bring it to the floor for a vote.
That seems unlikely, as the House committee that was convened this summer to take up the immigration bill has unraveled in recent weeks.
Last month, two Republicans abandoned the committee, citing inability to trust President Obama as the reason for their departure. More recently, another member of the group, Republican congressman Raul Labrador, claimed that immigration reform no longer has a path through the House because of the recent Washington dysfunction. Labrador told the Huffington Post: “For us to go to a negotiation, to the negotiating table with President Obama after what he has done over the last two and a half weeks, I think would be probably a very big mistake.”
To further complicate the process, the 2013 legislative session is winding down. As of October 18, the House has fewer than 20 days in the legislative session to pass comprehensive immigration reform. Invaluable legislative time was lost as Congress struggled to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling.
Comprehensive immigration reform may also struggle in the next legislative cycle. Next year is an election year for House members, which will make it especially challenging to pass any bill with bipartisan support.
Despite all of these congressional roadblocks, President Obama isn’t giving up on passing an immigration bill. After the shutdown ended, Obama urged the House to return its focus to passing immigration reform.
“Now, if the House has ideas on how to improve the Senate bill, let’s hear them. Let’s start the negotiations,” the president said Thursday. “But let’s not leave this problem to keep festering for another year, or two years, or three years. This can and should get done by the end of this year.”
Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr