October 3, 2013
Even while much of the federal government is shut down, Congress remains open for business. And so yesterday House Democrats introduced a new comprehensive immigration reform bill. Here are four things to know about the bill, and it’s chances for passage:
1. It is very similar to the Senate bill that passed back in June
The bill is nearly identical to the one passed by the Senate in June in a 68-to-32 vote, with support from 14 GOP members and all Democrats. However, the House bill replaces the border security language from the Senate version that convinced many of those Republican and Democratic senators to get on board, and instead includes a measure that passed out of the House Homeland Security Committee in May. That measure, championed by Reps. Mike McCaul (R-Texas) and Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), includes more specific metrics to be met to ensure border security.
2. It faces even more challenges than the currently stalled Senate bill
Despite Nancy Pelosi’s correct assertion that “”Every piece of this legislation has had bipartisan support,” the bill itself is a product of coalitions within the Democratic party, without input or help from the Republicans. And while it is clear that comprehensive immigration reform has majority support within the House of Representatives as a whole (all Democrats plus a handful or Republicans), Speaker John Boehner has so far held fast to the “Hastert Rule,” meaning he will only bring a bill up for a vote if it has the majority support of House Republicans. So far, any bill containing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants (“amnesty” in Republican lingo) has failed to come close gaining majority support among House Republicans, and so seems likely to stall out.
3. Its introduction is timed to coincide with the National Day of Action for Immigration Reform on October 5th
Even if few expect this bill to ever come up for a vote, it was good that the Democratic Party introduced it. Immigration reform has been too easily pressed to the margins, whether by Healthcare reform, the Syrian crisis, or now the government shutdown and debt limit debacle. With rallies and actions planned in 80 cities this coming Saturday, it was important to have something to rally for.
4. If the shutdown and debt ceiling negotiations get crazy enough, this bill might have a chance
As with immigration reform, a majority of congress actually supports funding the federal government, ending the shutdown, and avoiding a debt ceiling crisis. And as with immigration reform, that majority is currently stymied by the Speaker’s invocation of the Hastert Rule. One possible outcome of this situation is a “centrist coup,” in which at least 17 House Republicans leave the party (either switching to the Democratic Party or declaring themselves Independents,) erasing the Republican party’s majority in the House. In this scenario, a moderate/centrist Republican could become Speaker, backed by some Republicans and some Democrats. As Matt Yglesias explains, this same hypothetical coalition that would unite to end the shutdown would be available to pass immigration reform, so long as the centrist Speaker allowed the issue to come to a vote.
Dennis Hastert, Speaker of the House, 1999 – 2007. (Wikimedia Commons)
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