Earlier this week, the Senate passed a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill. Fourteen Republican senators joined all 32 Democrats in voting for the bill. Supporters of the bill rejoiced but the battle is far from over. It could be said it hasn’t even begun.
For the real discussion to take place — a dialog that will result in a bill reaching president Obama for signature — the House of Representatives must pass a bill that can be reconciled in conference committee with the Senate. Given statements coming from House and Senate leaders, this may not be possible.
July 10 is a key date. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) has announced that on that date he will meet with GOP members to determine what options are available to the House and how to proceed. Boehner has already made it clear he will not bring any bill to the floor unless it has the support of a majority of the party, the so-called Hassert Rule. He has also said the House will not consider the Senate bill but instead work on legislation that could be reconciled in conference. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has gone as far as admitting he has not read the Senate bill.
Senators supporting reform have stated a pathway to citizenship is a must in any bill. GOP members in the House have said the opposite, no pathway. Senators have said only a comprehensive bill will be agreed to. The House is proceeding with both a comprehensive bill and single item (piecemeal) bills.
Members of the Senate Gang of Eight said shortly after passage of their bill they want the House to act as they deem best and at their desired pace. But they must act. How the House proceeds will most likely be determined July 10.
At the end of the process, we will know how serious Congress is about reforming our immigration system. Will the House be willing to accept a pathway to citizenship with stricter triggers? Would the Senate agree to permanent resident status but no citizenship as a consequence of entering or remaining in the country illegally? Do the border security steps added to the Senate bill that secured critical GOP support for the final bill go far enough for members of the House or will yet stronger measures be required for compromise to take place? Would Senators be willing to accept a series of individual bills that accomplish the same goals as their comprehensive bill? The answers to these questions and the actions that follow will determine the outcome.
Failure to enact major immigration reform will play a significant role in the 2014 mid-term congressional election. If Republicans in the House pass a bill or series of bills that cannot or will not be taken up by the Senate in conference, they will most likely cast blame on Democrats for preventing reform. They could say Democrats are not serious about reform. They could say that by refusing to discuss the House results, the Senate is to blame. However, the Democrats have the upper hand. Not only was the Senate able to pass a bill with strong bipartisan support, they are also winning the perception game. Voters more often blame the GOP for gridlock.
Some GOP House members say by caving in on immigration reform they will lose their base. Others say they will gain back moderates in greater numbers. We don’t know who is right. What we do know is Republicans in the House of Representatives control the fate of immigration reform and the fate of their party.