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Yes, Immigration Reform Is Dead, Probably Until 2015 At The Earliest

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It’s been several months since the Senate voted, on a somewhat bipartisan basis, to pass a comprehensive Immigration Reform bill that included, among other things, provisions covering the status of people in the country illegally and a reform of the nation’s guest worker program that would have legalized tens of thousands of migrant farm workers and others who come to the United States temporarily for employment. Even as that bill was making it through the Senate, though, it was clear that any kind of immigration bill would have a much tougher time in the House. For one thing, the very idea of immigration reform was quickly opposed by pretty much every activist group on the right, including Tea Party groups who have long claimed that their only concern was with issues concerning government spending on the debt. Indeed, Marco Rubio, once the darling of the Tea Party has seen his stock far precipitously merely because he dared to work across the aisle to craft an immigration bill that took Republican concerns into account. For another, the group of Congressman that had come together to come up with some kind of House bill quickly started to fall apart over disagreements between the members. Given all of this, it was no surprise that the issue sat on the shelf in the House throughout the summer and, thanks to the joint issues of Syria and the shutdown showdown, has been mostly ignored since Congress got back from its August recess.

With the shutdown at least temporarily behind us, there have been some signs that President Obama and the Democrats would attempt to bring the issue back to the front burner. However, there’s very little that they can do about the matter right now. The next legislative step is up to the House of Representatives and it’s been relatively clear for some time that the Senate bill was not going to be considered by the House. Instead, those in Congress who are intent on some kind of reform package, such as Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert Goodlatte, have been talking about a more piecemeal approach to the issue via bills directed at specific parts of the immigration issue, such as a bill that would cover the children of people here illegally. It now appears, however, that there won’t be any movement on the issue in the House at all in the immediate future:

House Republican leadership has no plans to vote on any immigration reform legislation before the end the year.

The House has just 19 days in session before the end of 2013, and there are a number of reasons why immigration reform is stalled this year.

Following the fiscal battles last month, the internal political dynamics are tenuous within the House Republican Conference. A growing chorus of GOP lawmakers and aides are intensely skeptical that any of the party’s preferred piecemeal immigration bills can garner the support 217 Republicans — they would need that if Democrats didn’t lend their votes. Republican leadership doesn’t see anyone coalescing around a single plan, according to sources across GOP leadership. Leadership also says skepticism of President Barack Obama within the House Republican Conference is at a high, and that’s fueled a desire to stay out of a negotiating process with the Senate. Republicans fear getting jammed.

Of course, the dynamics could change. Some, including Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), are eager to pass something before the end of the year. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has signaled publicly that he would like to move forward in 2013 on an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws. If Republicans win some Democratic support on piecemeal bills, they could move forward this year. But still, anything that makes its way to the floor needs to have significant House Republican support

And Obama is also ramping up his messaging on immigration reform. “It’s good for our economy, it’s good for our national security, it’s good for our people, and we should do it this year,” Obama said Thursday. That same afternoon his chief of staff Denis McDonough met with business CEOs to strategize on immigration reform. Attendees included representatives from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers.

(…)

“I think there are a lot of folks who are concerned about this issue not getting solved, and I think legitimately so,” Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) told POLITICO. “Because I do think that every day that goes by, it makes it more and more difficult.”

Other prominent immigration supporters like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) have also backed off any deal, saying the Obama administration has “undermined” negotiations by not defunding his signature health care law. Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) went further, saying Obama is trying to “destroy the Republican Party” and that GOP leaders would be “crazy” to enter into talks with Obama.

That rhetoric combined with signals in private conversations with lawmakers and staff has led some immigration advocates to say they see the writing on the wall and they aren’t going to invest heavily until there’s more momentum.

Given that Congress is only scheduled to meet for nineteen more legislative days this year, it’s hard to believe that there would be anywhere near enough time to push any kind of immigration reform bill through the House, especially given how politically contentious the issue is likely to become if the attempt is made. That leaves us with 2014 for any kind of reform to make it through the 113th Congress before it leaves office at the end of next year. It wouldn’t be without historical precedent for an immigration bill to become law in a mid-term election year, of course.

The last major immigration bill was passed by a bipartisan majority in Congress in 1986, and signed into law by President Reagan mere days after the 1986 elections themselves. However, these are far different times than those, and the odds of House Republicans, or even just the House GOP Leadership, being able to get a substantive immigration bill through the House in an election year seem pretty slim. If it were to happen, it would have to occur after the danger of primary challenges had passed, and it’s worth noting that the final votes on the 1986 bill were taken in the time between the primaries and the General Election. Even that, however, would require a lot more enthusiasm for the issue than Republicans have shown up until now. Yes, there are certain members of the party who have argued passionately that the party can’t afford to be left behind, and the Chamber of Commerce and other and other business groups have been at the forefront of arguments in favor of reform. For the most part, though, the GOP as a whole, especially in the House has been decidedly blase about the entire issue. That seems to make it unlikely that they’ll be all that eager to do much of anything. Of course, if there’s no action in 2014, then the entire process will have to start all over again, with the added bonus of everyone starting to tee up for the 2016 Presidential election.

The obvious question, of course, is what the prospect of blocking immigration reform for as much as another four years will mean for Republican electoral prospects. In 2012, President Obama got 71% of the Latino vote, compared to just 27% for Mitt Romney.  How bad will it get in 2016 if they once again are perceived as the party preventing even minor progress from being made on what everyone with a brain agrees is a serious issue that needs to be dealt with?

Update: Greg Sargent posits one scenario under which we might see some kind of immigration reform package out of the House:

The premise is that — with business, evangelical, and pro-reform conservative groups set to mount major pressure campaigns — it isn’t as easy for House GOP leaders to avoid voting on reform as many claim it is. House Republicans end up holding piecemeal votes before the end of the year on border security and E-Verify, and on, say, the Kids Act, which could perhaps get a majority of House Republicans. Those pass, but there’s no vote on any politically difficult proposal to legalize the 11 million.

House GOP leaders adamantly declare there will be no conference negotiations under any circumstances, Goddammit! They insist defiantly that Dems have a choice: Either take the Kids Act or leave it. Democrats are cornered! Or maybe not. Meanwhile, pro-reform GOP Senators quietly approach House Republicans who want reform to actually happen, and later, after most of the House GOP primary deadlines have passed, real talks take place, perhaps followed even by a House vote on something approximating comprehensive reform.

Of course, even that optimistic scenario means that the House GOP approach will be shaped largely around not alienating the hard right. As we’ve known all along, we’re not getting reform unless House GOP leaders and mainstream House Republicans are willing, at some point, to anger the folks who won’t ever, ever, ever accept any immigration solution of any kind.

Possible I suppose. As I noted above, the key votes on the 1986 occurred after primary election dates had passed. Like I said, though, it’s a different time now.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Rob in CT says:

    One option would be to take the bill the Senate passed and change it such that there is stricter enforcement (preferably something hitting employers as opposed to d*cking around with more border guards). Then negotiate and see if a deal can be struck.

    But… yeah, no:

    Other prominent immigration supporters like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) have also backed off any deal, saying the Obama administration has “undermined” negotiations by not defunding his signature health care law. Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) went further, saying Obama is trying to “destroy the Republican Party” and that GOP leaders would be “crazy” to enter into talks with Obama.

    You gotta be f*cking kidding me.

    These people are brats.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 2

  2. C. Clavin says:

    There will not be Immigration Reform until the Republican Congress grows up and starts acting like adults.
    So…a long time.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 5

  3. al-Ameda says:

    Entirely predictable, despite the good faith efforts of a handful of Republicans to try and do something productive and at the same time shore up GOP standing with Hispanic and Latino voters. The broad base of the Republican Party does not want immigration reform that goes much beyond more border fencing and patrols, and a punitive path to citizenship that may take 10 years or longer.

    Everyone is on hold – again – until the results of the 2014 mid-terms. I’m thinking that the GOP is extremely happy about the ACA Website failure, and that they see this as fodder for the next round of “defund or repeal ACA” and a rallying point for the elections.

    The GOP is the disestablishment party.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 2

  4. James in Silverdale, WA says:

    The GOP relies on gerrymandering and the faint echo of 2010′s “win”. Since then, the House has dithered its way to irrelevancy in a fashion guaranteed to continue to alienate the votes it must absolutely have to win elections.

    The GOP cannot rely on governing achievements, as there have been none to speak of this century.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 3

  5. Stonetools says:

    Immigration reform will happen only when the Democrats regain the House. That is all.
    You can’t expect any sensible legislation out of this crazy Republican House.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 2

  6. LaMont says:

    In other words, Congress is not concerned about anything that actually consists of moving forward in any way. The awarenewss of their inability to pass anything in the House has been heightened. It won’t be “business as usual” with the way they have run the house. Given the political climate after the government shut-down, they will actually have to explain why this congress has not passed anything meaningful since they took over the house. This is the record they’ll have to run against in the 2014 elections. It doesn’t surprise me at all that Obama is trying to pivot so hard for these issues now. If the voters don’t get it now, they likely never will.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 2

  7. john personna says:

    Another reminder that split government does not mean compromise or pragmatism, not today.

    (I’m actually moderately hopeful that Paul Ryan’s call for lowered expectations on sequester review will lead to a little compromise and pragmatism. Immigration reform, however rational and needed, is right off the map right now. It is too big.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  8. rodney dill says:

    The Republicans have readily agreed to immigration reform, but only if the application system is a website setup by the same people that set up HealthCare dot gov.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 7

  9. Pinky says:

    For one thing, the very idea of immigration reform was quickly opposed by pretty much every activist group on the right, including Tea Party groups who have long claimed that their only concern was with issues concerning government spending on the debt.

    Implicit in that statement is the notion that any immigration reform would necessarily be deficit-neutral. Is that a safe assumption? Remember that health care reform was sold as deficit-neutral too.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 4

  10. David M says:

    @Pinky:

    Implicit in that statement is the notion that any immigration reform would necessarily be deficit-neutral. Is that a safe assumption? Remember that health care reform was sold as deficit-neutral too.

    Given that the CBO has scored both the Senate immigration reform bill and Obamacare as reducing the deficit, I’m not sure what you’re trying to say.

    Immigration reform reduces the deficit previously covered at OTB.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 2

  11. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @LaMont:

    This is the record they’ll have to run against in the 2014 elections.

    This. Exactly. The Dems would do very well to push this issue, guns, healthcare, and a few others as hard as possible. It would go even further to define the House GOP as so obstructionist they are not even willing to engage on the serious issues facing the country.

    I doubt it will be enough to flip the house in 2014, but it should save the Senate, and come 2016?

    Fugehdaboutit.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  12. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @rodney dill: Apparently at least three idiots have lost their sense of humor. I however gave you a thumbs up for my “chuckle-of-the-day”. Thank you.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  13. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @David M: Don’t bother, Pinky doesn’t care how the CBO grades things, he/she only cares how FOX grades them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  14. David M says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    I know it’s a pointless attempt, as the Tea Party and GOP don’t even care about the deficit or debt anyway.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  15. DrDaveT says:

    skepticism of President Barack Obama within the House Republican Conference is at a high

    What the heck is that even supposed to mean?? The only way I can parse it that makes any sense in the context is “every time we agree to something he proposes, we discover that he’s tricked us, that wascawwy wabbit”. Sad, but possible.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  16. An Interested Party says:

    The Republicans have readily agreed to immigration reform, but only if the application system is a website setup by the same people that set up HealthCare dot gov.

    Well, if those people aren’t available, perhaps they could talk to the folks who did whatever it was that they did in Iraq after it was invaded…or the folks in the financial sector who pissed away all that money…there are plenty of “experts” out there….

    @DrDaveT: That’s ok, as skepticism of the GOP within the United States is at a high…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

  17. David M says:

    The Republicans have readily agreed to immigration reform, but only if the application system is a website setup by the same people that set up HealthCare dot gov.

    Is there any chance the Democrats wouldn’t agree to that, or that the GOP would? So what if the website rollout was FUBAR, eventually it would work.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  18. Pinky says:

    @David M: The CBO scores bills with the assumptions that Congress provides them. How did CBO come up with the health care bill saving money? First of all, it applied 10 years of revenue to its equation and only 6 years of health care costs (due to the delayed start-up). Unless the government shuts down its health care every few years, we’re not going to be able to duplicate that. Then there is the assumption that health care costs will go down. This is the part that often gets labelled “death panels” but the truth is that the bill doesn’t really explain where the cost reductions are going to be coming from. Considering the rate of increase of health care costs in recent years, that’s a heck of an assumption to be made. Then there was the double-counting of the $700 billion (if I recall correctly) of Medicare savings that were already on the books.

    But this only makes my point. Most experts agree that the initial projections were overly optimistic (although they may argue about the exact costs). This immigration reform bill is being touted as revenue-neutral or even cost-saving, and there’s no reason for its opponents to have confidence that it will be. It’s entirely reasonable for tax-reduction groups to oppose the proposed legislation.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3

  19. David M says:

    @Pinky:

    Uninformed drivel.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

  20. superdestroyer says:

    @Stonetools:

    But then should everyone should decide how the U.S. will work as a one party state. How will politics work when more than 50% of voters automatically vote for the Democrat and there are only Democrats running for office.

    What happens to politics when offices change occupants once a generation? How high will taxes go to fund all of the entitlements that those automatic Democratic Party voters will demand. Will all of the promises for border security be forgotten if the Democrats run no risk of losing political power to whatever remains of the Republican Party?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 5

  21. mrbill says:

    Ryan is secretly writing big Amnesty plan now….the RINO’s are pushing the narrative that nothing is going to be done. They are intent on creating 33 million new Slaves that will eventually be Democrats in training.

    The Chamber of Commerce is behind it and they want to put out the idea nothing is being done to placate the conservatives and keep them from bringing their pitchforks and torches and burning down every business associated with the Chamber.

    But that is a good idea…..contact any business in your area and warn them off the Chamber amnesty

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  22. bill says:

    @rodney dill: nice, so anybody may be able to apply for whatever reason…..and may never hear from them again….for that same reason. and so on and so forth……like any 3rd world country’s website. how embarrassing for us.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  23. David M says:

    @Pinky:

    Now that I have a little more time, I’ll expand on exactly why this is uninformed drivel.

    The CBO scores bills with the assumptions that Congress provides them.

    True, but that doesn’t really mean anything negative.

    How did CBO come up with the health care bill saving money?

    They determined it saved money (reduced the deficit) by determining that is brought in more revenue than it spent. You know, math.

    First of all, it applied 10 years of revenue to its equation and only 6 years of health care costs (due to the delayed start-up).

    Not true, it used 10 years of revenue and 10 years of benefits. The 10 years of revenue / 6 years of costs is a well known Republican myth.

    Unless the government shuts down its health care every few years, we’re not going to be able to duplicate that.

    Again, not remotely close to being true. The CBO scores Obamacare as reducing the deficit more in it’s second decade than the first decade.

    Then there is the assumption that health care costs will go down. This is the part that often gets labelled “death panels” but the truth is that the bill doesn’t really explain where the cost reductions are going to be coming from.

    Not true, the tax increases and spending decreases are very clearly spelled out. There were quite a few new ideas in the health care reform that people think will save money, but the CBO used a conservative estimate of those savings. If anything, the deficit reduction will be probably larger than was initially proposed.

    Considering the rate of increase of health care costs in recent years, that’s a heck of an assumption to be made.

    Not really, and you just pointed out one of the better reasons we needed health care reform.

    Then there was the double-counting of the $700 billion (if I recall correctly) of Medicare savings that were already on the books.

    Another Republican myth, that has no basis in reality. As a reminder, Paul Ryan’s budget kept these Medicare savings as well, and counted them in the exact same way.

    But this only makes my point.

    Whatever your point was, you certainly proved you don’t know what you’re talking about. Please drop the Fox News talking points and slowly back away.

    Most experts agree that the initial projections were overly optimistic (although they may argue about the exact costs).

    No, if anything they were overly pessimistic, as they assumed most of the new ideas to control costs wouldn’t be very effective. This was a major problem for the Democrats as they had to work even harder to pass a responsible health care reform bill.

    This immigration reform bill is being touted as revenue-neutral or even cost-saving, and there’s no reason for its opponents to have confidence that it will be.

    It’s opponents are lying.

    It’s entirely reasonable for tax-reduction groups to oppose the proposed legislation.

    No. It’s entirely reasonable to assume the GOP and Tea Party have no interest in the deficit or debt, given their complete lack of honesty about the issue.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  24. Grewgills says:

    @Pinky:
    The parts that would drive up the cost of any immigration bill would be the sops to Republicans, more border fencing, more enforcement officers, etc, so the revenue neutral excuse for Republicans failing to engage is not so convincing.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  25. Grewgills says:

    @superdestroyer:
    If a party becomes irrelevant it either changes or is replaced in our system. It has happened a few times and we are all still here. Your continued one note symphony on the coming one party state entirely ignore this rather obvious fact that should have been learned in grammar school.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  26. superdestroyer says:

    @Grewgills:

    You would have a point but there has been no new political parties since more than 100 years. In addition, there are many places in the U.S. that have been functionally one party state for more than 50 years. Has a new party started up in Chicago or Detroit to replace the totally irrelevant Republican Party.

    If more than 50% of the voters are automatic Democratic Party voters, is there any place for a second party. Most of the talk about realignment is the Republican Party breaking into two parties while the Democratic Party becomes even more dominant.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

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    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0