Comprehensive immigration reform passed the Senate in June, but there still is little indication when or if the House of Representatives will consider it. It’s ridiculous, because if House Speaker John Boehner simply let a version of the Senate bill come to the floor, it would pass with votes to spare.
It’s assumed Boehner wouldn’t do such a thing for fear of angering tea party voters and the right-wing groups that adamantly oppose a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, which they derisively call amnesty. But what Boehner himself said last week, after a bipartisan budget agreement was reached, eliminates that excuse for blocking reform. There’s no reason not to bring the badly needed bill, or a version of it, to the House floor in the new year.
Referring to the right-wing groups that opposed the budget before they’d seen it, Boehner said: “They’re using our members and they’re using the American people for their own goals. This is ridiculous.” Visibly angry, he went on to say: “Frankly, I just think that they have lost all credibility.”
Many Americans figured out a while ago that these groups, such as Heritage Action and FreedomWorks, were motivated by their own narrow interests — not what’s best for the country. The most recent example? Their demand that lawmakers “defund” the Affordable Care Act, which wasn’t even technically possible and which led to the 18-day government shutdown. The strategy turned out to be an embarrassing failure that badly damaged the Republicans, which seems to have led to Boehner’s change of heart.
It’s going to be tough for Boehner to go along with tea party groups on immigration after saying they lack credibility and don’t have the best interests of the country at heart. And it’s not clear he wants to. This month he hired immigration expert Rebecca Tallent, a former aide to Sen. John McCain — widely viewed as a sign he might pursue reform.
Many Republican-aligned groups, including the Chamber of Commerce, are pushing hard for passage of comprehensive reform. The Senate bill, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, would reduce the deficit by more than $800 billion over 20 years, strengthen Social Security and boost gross domestic product. And it would bring millions of undocumented immigrants out of the shadows, allowing them to participate fully in the country’s economic and civic life.
All of these things are good for the country. But Republicans living outside the tea party bubble also know that support for reform is essential for the survival of a party that desperately needs to improve its standing with minority voters.
That Rep. Paul Ryan, the GOP co-author of the budget deal, and Boehner bucked the tea party is a positive development for those who pine for compromise in Washington. Allowing immigration reform to come to the House floor would be another one, and now, there’s absolutely no good reason it can’t happen.