Harry Reid isn’t helping his cause by making the speaker of the House look weak in the knees. But it’s probably close to the truth — depending on your point of view. With the budget battle pushed to the sidelines and the debt ceiling looming in February, there appears to be a small window where the House could take up the piecemeal immigration bills that Boehner has indicated he wants to bring to the floor. Meanwhile, Reid insists that Boehner must go to conference willing to deal on the 1200 page comprehensive reform package passed by the Senate last year.
The question will be: what happens at a conference committee to reconcile the two approaches?
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) believes Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) will negotiate on comprehensive immigration reform next year, despite his declarations to the contrary.
The Democratic leader argued that Boehner has a new willingness to confront Tea Party groups and this, in turn, gives Reid confidence that he will not have to break up the Senate immigration bill to negotiate a series of piecemeal reforms with the House.
“I think that John Boehner will conference with the Senate. Why wouldn’t he? He’ll have a lot of pressure from his members now that the election is getting closer,” Reid said in an interview with The Hill.
“Some of his members are in very marginal districts where they need to do something on immigration,” he added.
Boehner has vowed he will not let the Senate bill, which spans more than 1,200 pages, reach the negotiating table. The most controversial element of the package is a provision granting a pathway to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants.
“We have no intention of ever going to conference on the Senate bill,” Boehner told reporters last month.
A spokesman for Boehner said his boss is sticking to his strategy.
“The Speaker has been very clear that the House will only address immigration reform in a step-by-step common-sense manner,” said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel.
Boehner has been under pressure from conservative members of his conference not to pass even smaller pieces of immigration reform.
They fear being strategically outmaneuvered. Narrowly-tailored legislation on border security or work visas could be combined with the Senate’s comprehensive bill and then returned to the House floor for an up-or-down vote, they fear.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), a Tea Party favorite, has organized a group of conservatives pledging to vote against any immigration reform bill to prevent Democrats from using it as a legislative vehicle to enact the pathway to citizenship.
Even Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a co-sponsor of the Senate bill, has backed away from calls to go to conference with the comprehensive measure.
“At this point, the most realistic way to make progress on immigration would be through a series of individual bills,” Rubio spokesman Alex Conant said in October.
Even Republicans who support the piecemeal approach to reform would vote against any final bill that contained a pathway to citizenship. This isn’t a Tea Party or establishment issue. It is a universal Republican issue and Reid, Schumer, and Obama — who have all said there will be no immigration reform without the citizenship section included in a final bill — better rethink their approach if they want any immigration reform at all.
It’s hard to see a compromose emerging on the pathway to citizenship, but it’s possible. Something less than citizenship and more than a threat to deport illegals could be in the offing. Some kind of permanent, non-citizen status for the millions who have been here for many years could be part of a compromise.
But there are other issues to consider, including illegals’ access to social programs like Obamacare, and back taxes — an issue Senator Hatch has championed. It will be extremely difficult to cobble together a bill that addresses the status of those illegals already here, which makes Obama’s promise to veto any bill that fails to lay out a path to citizenship a potential deal killer.
Immigration reform may very well be one of the first items of business on the docket after the House returns from Christmas vacation.