When the Senate Judiciary Committee sent the sweeping immigration bill on to an eventual floor vote, many eyes turned towards the House and the prospects that it may play a role in torpedoing immigration reform.
But the already drawn out process will only take more twists and turns before the possibility of eventual passage and there are important things to know about where comprehensive immigration reform stands right now.
The Senate Will Pass the Immigration Bill — Probably
Many have taken it as a foregone conclusion that the Senate will quickly pass the immigration bill now that the Senate Judiciary Committee has approved it, but Senator Landrieu, who chairs the Senate Small Business Committee, said not so fast.
“At some point, you’ve got to close the deal but we’re not anywhere near closing that deal. We’ve got to go through a process on the floor,” Landrieu said to Reuters.
Sylvia Manzano, a political scientist with polling firm Latino Decisions, says the bill will pass with more than 60 out of 100 votes, so better than along party lines. “Senators are responsive to a more moderate public, while members of the House have much more political latitude to be contrary,” she says.
The House May Take A Piecemeal Approach
While senator and “Gang of 8” member Chuck Schumer has said a piecemeal approach to immigration reform would be inadequate, the idea of passing smaller bills and leaving contentious parts of reform, like a pathway to citizenship, off the table for now appeals to many House members.
“Congressman Goodlatte has introduced and moved small bills,” says Angela Kelley, of the center-left Center for American Progress. “They may just move pieces of immigration reform, especially on the border enforcement part.”
Manzano says while this may anger some, it makes sense for many House members.
“They may say we will pass a DREAM Act but we’re not going to do this other stuff,” she says.
After Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor released a statement saying the House will move forward with its own version of immigration reform, Kelley says it’s because the House immigration negotiators have been struggling to come to bipartisan consensus.
“The House is in flux, the House Gang of 8,” she says. “It’s like a Taylor Swift song — they make up, they break up, but they’re clearly trying to overcome hurdles.”
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Health Care for Undocumented Immigrants is a Major Sticking Point in the House
The comments from Rep. Raul Labrador, a member of the House Gang of 8 were notable for their intensity.
“What might be the story at the end of this year, at the end of this session, is that Obamacare killed immigration reform,” Labrador said Wednesday. At issue is whether undocumented immigrants on a pathway to citizenship would be eligible for health care subsidies from the affordable care act. House Republicans are vehemently against the idea and proposed language that Rep. Xavier Becerra, also a House immigration negotiator, said he could not support.
Kelley says that like the high-profile issue of immigration benefits for same-sex partners, which didn’t make it into the Senate bill, health care issues are immensely important, but not something that will get enough support if it would stop comprehensive immigration reform. “We’re talking about human beings who get sick or get hit by buses,” she says. “But in the immigration debate, as much as I want to, we can’t take on all the existing challenges.”
Manzano says the mere existence of the debate creates a successful stereotype.
“It’s presumptuous that these people would not get health care from employers,” she says. “It’s a successful stereotype that all of these undocumented immigrants are going to be a huge burden.”
She says the debate is grounded in party politics.
“It’s more of a political tool for Republicans,” she says. “If they use the magic word Obamacare — as a party, you’re supposed to vote no.”
Differences Will Have to be Settled in Conference Committees
The Senate will do much of their work before the July 4 recess, which means that by July the House leadership will have clarity on how its caucus is reacting to what has been drawn up by the Senate, Kelley says.
That’s when conference committees, made up of Senate and House members would come together to “look at the totality of legislation before them,” she says.
“We know more about conference committees from civic lessons because it hasn’t happened all that often,” Kelley adds. “Both chambers will have to dust off government books to figure out how to do that.”
Final Immigration Reform Timetable: End of Summer? Fall?
In an exclusive interview with Telemundo in March, President Obama said immigration reform should get done by the end of summer. But Kelley says it doesn’t look likely with an August recess and conference committees likely. She says a much more likely target is sometime in the Fall and while she says immigration reform will happen, the timing won’t necessarily be music to the ears of advocates who wants passage as soon as possible.
“It will definitely get done before the end of 2013,” she says.