Early budget deal could mean a vote on immigration reform next year
If House and Senate negotiators are able to ink a budget deal before the Christmas recess, immigration advocates believe that this would clear the way for a vote on some sort of immigration reform early next year.
Their interest is not so much in the policy as the timing. The unending fiscal battles have repeatedly stolen the spotlight from immigration in the House, and the government shutdown in October sapped the legislative push of both time and political good will.
With Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) taking steps to revive immigration reform, advocates now see one remaining window for action in the early part of 2014, before election season begins.
But that opportunity will be lost, lawmakers and aides say, if yet another budget fight erupts in January and February.
Current federal funding runs out on Jan. 15, but House and Senate leaders are hoping to finalize a modest budget deal before lawmakers head home for the holidays.
An agreement would clear the legislative calendar in the New Year, and combined with an expected push from President Obama in his State of the Union address, immigration reform could have the moment its advocates have been waiting for.
"If some of those obstacles could get out of the way, I do think there is very much a desire to get something done, to put it behind them, to come up with a good answer," said Tamar Jacoby, a Republican advocate who is president of ImmigrationWorks USA.
Jacoby said the support for some action on immigration in the House exists "way into the depths of the Republican conference, not just the leadership and not just the people who sound like liberals on this."
"So I do think clearing away some of those hurdles could allow that ferment to come to the fore," she said.
Yet timing is not the only obstacle in the House GOP. While several narrow bills have emerged from the Judiciary and Homeland Security committees, party leaders need a proposal addressing the legal status of undocumented immigrants that can pass with a combination of Republican and Democratic votes.
Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) and Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) are working on separate legalization proposals, but it isn't clear whether either can win the necessary support.
And while a fresh push by Obama in the State of the Union could thrust immigration reform back atop the headlines, a hectoring speech could backfire among Republicans who deeply distrust the president.
Even Boehner says the Senate bill is dead so the president can forget about a "path to citizenship" for illegals. But there could be a "path to legality" that would win the support of enough Republicans and Democrats to pass. It would be part of a larger package of reforms that would include a strong border security bill and visa reform. There may also be a modified "DREAM Act" in the mix but that's a longer shot than the others.
The president keeps saying he will not sign a bill that doesn't have a path to citizenship. Watch for him to relent on that pledge if immigration reform becomes an issue after the first of the year. He no longer enjoys huge support from the Hispanic community who would rather take half a loaf than stand firm on an issue that will never pass the House.