Just about everyone has their opinion as to what is likely to happen with immigration reform legislation. The one thing that all such opinions have in common is that there is absolutely no basis for an accurate prediction by anyone as to what is going to happen. There are simply too many unknown variables.
What we do know is this: The Senate passed a comprehensive immigration bill by a better than two thirds majority. That bill is now awaiting consideration by the House. It is an almost certainty that there are enough votes in the House to pass the Senate bill immediately. Doing so, however, would require almost all Democrats and about two dozen Republicans to vote for it.
The majority (Republican) caucus in the House is split on this subject. Some members want to pass the Senate bill (a small minority). Some want to pass a series of stand-alone immigration bills. Others don’t want to pass any legislation at all – other than perhaps a border security bill. The problem that the House leadership has is that there isn’t a majority within their caucus that support any one course of action.
Most of the House leadership has expressed a wish to see comprehensive immigration legislation passed. They cannot, however, simply impose their will on their caucus – at least not if they want to remain in leadership positions very long.
A number of ideas to resolve the situation have been floated, including the filing of a discharge petition. This is a device that requires at least 217 signatures (a simple majority) and results in a bill being brought to the floor for a vote. The problem with this procedure is that any Republican signing a discharge petition would likely face party discipline for his or her actions. Some have suggested that this might be a face saving way out of this impasse for the Speaker and he might tacitly agree to not impose discipline on Republicans who sign a discharge petition. Only time will tell.
Another issue that complicates matters is the debt ceiling debate. The original estimate from the Secretary of the Treasury was that we would not have to raise the debt ceiling until late October or early November. The plan had been to debate immigration in mid-September and early October. Earlier this week, the Treasury Secretary announced that the critical date estimate has been moved up to late October.
Congress has approximately 40 legislative work days remaining for calendar year 2013. If the debt ceiling debate has to be moved forward on the calendar, then there may be no time left for dealing with immigration legislation in 2013. Most experts believe that it will be next to impossible to pass immigration legislation in 2014, a Congressional election year.
In conclusion, let me say that immigration legislation has been declared dead and buried several times already this year, only to rise like a phoenix and take on new life. As the great American philosopher Yogi Berra once observed: “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”