Want It Now? Oh, We’ll Give It To You…Later

Did the Senate ironically kill (for the time being) an immigration deal by passing an immigration bill?  Arguably, yes.

Control of the Senate is up in the air in the 2014 elections. On the other hand, the GOP seems pretty likely to maintain its majority in the House. If the GOP wins control of the Senate and holds onto the House majority in 2014, then the GOP can control the finer points of an immigration bill in the 114th Congress.  The only practical impediments standing in the way of enacting the bill would be

  1. A filibuster by Democrats in the Senate and
  2. A veto by President Obama.

President Obama has come out strongly in favor of immigration reform, so let’s set that aside. The more interesting angle is the first one.  I wrote recently about the nuclear option, though it seems like we’re now at no worse than Defcon 2. Clearly, if the nuclear option is pulled in its strongest form and legislative filibusters are effectively neutered, then (1) would no longer present an impediment.  So, let’s presume that “the button” is not pushed.

It seems incredibly unlikely that the GOP will hold 60 seats in the Senate in 2015, so the Democrats could stand together and block an immigration bill that they “did not like.”  But, is this likely now?

I argue no, for two reasons.  First, every Democratic Senator voted in favor of S. 744, the Senate’s immigration bill. For some, this was a tough vote, at least in electoral terms.  Thus, these Democrats have already sent a high profile and potentially costly signal that immigration reform is “important” and (this is important) for the Senators who viewed it as “a tough vote,” the sensible implication is that they want their skeptical constituents to believe that immigration reform is important for policy reasons (not partisan ones).

Accordingly, imagine that the GOP presents these Democratic Senators with a modified immigration bill, similar in many respects to S. 744.  Voting against, not to mention pursuing what might end up being high profile efforts to block, such a bill would be arguably seen as partisan obstructionism.  To be succinct, such efforts are not typically viewed favorably by exactly those voters who were/are skeptical of a Democratic incumbent: these are voters who tend to vote Republican but presumably might give a Democrat the benefit of the doubt if the incumbent is perceived to be competent, faithful to the state’s/the nation’s interests, etc. 

But, remember, these incumbents will have already claimed that immigration reform is important and, arguably, faithful to their states’/the nation’s interests.  In a nutshell, the worries for the Democrats right now about immigration reform are actually focused on those Democratic Senators facing reelection in 2016.  If these members can’t stand the prospect of being seen as overly partisan (or, perhaps, as a flip-flopper), then the GOP can easily count on being able to get enough Democrat cross-overs to reach 60 votes if they control the Senate’s agenda through holding a majority of its seats in the 114th Congress.

Finally, Boehner and the House Republicans are probably thinking about exactly this possibility, given the meaningful possibility that the GOP might win control of the Senate in 2014.  Accordingly, in conjunction with the apparent security of their majority in the House, the House Republicans have little to no incentive to consider any immigration bill this Congress, precisely because the Senate Democrats passed one this Congress.  Finally, note that many Senate Republicans also voted for the immigration bill, which merely strengthens the argument.

With that, I leave you with this.