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In The News: Pending Senate Floor Vote Yields More Uncertainty

Friday, May 31, 2013

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With the help of three Republican Senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Gang of 8’s comprehensive immigration reform bill passed its first hurdle (13-5 vote) and advances to the Senate floor for debate in June with assurance from Senate Minority Leader, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), that Republican leadership will not block a floor vote.

A vast majority of Americans continue to support comprehensive immigration reform—a recent Pew poll shows about three-fourths of Americans say the immigration system requires major changes or needs to be completely rebuilt.

The House of Representatives has yet to produce a bill of its own and has continued to signal hesitation to get behind the Senate’s plan.  House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) was quick to note that the Senate immigration bill “falls far short” and remains unconvinced the bill does enough to produce a secure border.  Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has made it clear he won’t follow the Senate’s lead on immigration reform; instead, preferring the House pass its own version.

While the political math for passage of a House version remains unclear, one stumbling block appears to have been removed.  Amid talk of House bipartisan negotiations breaking down over whether those on a pathway to citizenship could receive healthcare under the Affordable Care Act, House Democrats capitulated ensuring taxpayers won’t pay for provisional citizens’ healthcare.

Yet, pushing aside one barrier still leaves many more ahead.  Another such roadblock yet to be resolved (and unlikely to in the near future) is the issue of cost. Recently, Charles Blahous attempted to determine whether immigration reform would be a net benefit or net cost for Social Security.  His answer—to the chagrin of both sides: yes and no; it all depends on the specifics of the reform.  To the benefit of proponents, however, Keith Hennessey in an early May analysis (and a recent follow-up piece) took issue with the Heritage Foundation’s highly publicized $6.3 trillion price tag of the citizenship pathway provision.

The Gang of 8’s strategy of sticking together worked well in the Judiciary Committee to avoid poison pill amendments, but questions linger about whether there are the necessary 60 votes in the Senate for a clear passage.   Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), a member of the Senate Gang of 8, has signaled that 60 votes are not there yet. However, Senate Majority Leader, Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), insists getting the 60 votes will be easy.

While it appears momentum is behind the Senate Gang of 8, the lack of a House alternative and the hesitance of many Senators to publicly state their position on the reform bill means comprehensive immigration reform continues to remain in an uncertain place.