By MICHAEL DOYLE
July 01, 2006
Business and labor lobbyists are mobilizing. Lawmakers are maneuvering, onstage and off. Congressional hearings are convening, potentially including one in California's Central Valley.
Some of the action will be public, like a July 5 House hearing in San Diego, Calif. There's nothing subtle about these hearings, starting with one titled "Border Vulnerabilities and International Terrorism." The hearings will continue through August, spinning the debate in one direction.
"They're being held in areas where it will be playing to the enforcement crowd," noted Rep. George Radanovich, R-California.
Some of the action will be private, like the closed-door planning meeting late last week between five House Republicans and five Senate Republicans. The GOP members, including Rep. Ray LaHood of Illinois and Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona, are setting the stage for a post-Independence Day show of force by supporters of comprehensive reform.
"We're going to get a broad group in the House," Flake said. "We'll have a sufficiently large group to meet with the (GOP) leadership."
Immigrant activists will be convening all summer as well, leading up big marches planned for the Labor Day weekend. These marches, though, can be politically tricky. An earlier series of immigrant demonstrations actually drove away potential Republican supporters of comprehensive immigration reform, said Rep. Devin Nunes, R-California.
Until the hearings conclude in August, predicted Rep. Dan Lungren, R-California, there will be no formal negotiations ironing out differences between the House and Senate.
The House last December passed legislation focused strictly on border security, with provisions like construction of a 700-mile fence separating the United States and Mexico. The Senate in May passed broader legislation, which included an agricultural guest-worker plan covering 1.5 million farm workers and a legalization scheme protecting many of the nation's estimated 12 million illegal immigrants.
But despite the postponement of formal negotiations between the House and Senate, and the widespread Capitol Hill skepticism about a bill succeeding, the summer movement proceeds along several fronts. There's posturing, as advocates seek to demonstrate the strength of their positions. There's also pulse-taking, as lawmakers test public sentiment.
"A lot of it depends on what members come back with after the August recess," Lungren said. "This is one issue that's driven from the bottom."
Radanovich wants at least one of the congressional hearings in the Valley. The House Ways and Means Committee, chaired by Bakersfield Republican Bill Thomas, is now asking its own members for immigration field hearing ideas, although not everyone thinks the formal hearings outside of Washington are necessary.
"I'm not really too hot on these hearings," Nunes said.
Some of the summer action is legislative: writing bill language that works.
Flake, for one, sees potential in a package that includes guest-worker and legalization provisions but postpones them pending certain calendar dates or border security benchmarks. Flake's Arizona colleague, Republican Sen. John McCain, agreed a trigger mechanism has become "an area of negotiation."
Some of the summer action is purely political. Business backers of comprehensive immigration reform will be urged to beef up their lobbying for comprehensive reform, said Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah.
Cannon's own political survival will be cited throughout the summer as political evidence that core Republican voters want more than simply border security. The chief House author of an agricultural guest-worker bill, Cannon defeated a Republican primary challenger 56 percent to 44 percent. Although Cannon's opponent was outspent and undermined by some personal foibles, the race was widely viewed as a referendum on immigration.
"I can't overstate the importance of that," Flake said. "It shows you can be for comprehensive immigration reform and still win a Republican primary."
One sympathetic member of the GOP leadership, House Majority Leader John Boehner of Ohio, noted that "there are a number of other conversations going on between prospective (negotiators) on the House and Senate side" prior to the start of a formal congressional conference.
Even so, the Capitol Hill calendar may be unforgiving. Congress is scheduled to adjourn Oct. 6, providing only about a month for the formal House and Senate negotiations to conclude. That's tight, but not impossible.
In October 1986, for instance, Lungren was a member of the House when it approved the last massive immigration reform bill. The House and Senate negotiators finished their conference in only four days, with most of the deals being cut in private.
The 1986 immigration bill, though, was also built on the foundation of laborious work done throughout 1985. Conceivably, as Nunes and Radanovich both suggested, lawmakers could return for a lame-duck session after the November election.
Sometimes, such lame-duck sessions tackle politically dicey matters. Senators, for instance, waited for a lame-duck session in 1954 before censuring their red-baiting colleague, Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Likewise, Congress used a lame-duck session in 1980 to approve a 55 million-acre Alaska wilderness bill.
"The dynamics are that a lot of members who would vote no before the election vote yes afterward," said Mike Lynch, chief of staff to the Modesto, Calif.-based Great Valley Center. "They're totally free agents."
For immigration reform, the question becomes how the November elections might shape congressional motivation. One scenario is that if Democrats are prepared to take over either the House or Senate, Republicans might quickly strike the best deal they can while they still hold power. An alternative scenario is that if Republicans retain their majorities that could be considered an endorsement of the border security positions that House members will be promoting this summer.
Scripps-McClatchy Western Service, http://www.shns.com
Publish A Letter on SitNews Read Letters/Opinions