Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

August 4, 2006

Border bill: the stretch run

Filed under: Border Security,Congress and HLS — by Christian Beckner on August 4, 2006

The new issue of the National Journal has a lengthy story (by subscription only) on the prognosis for passing immigration and border security legislation before the November elections, examining the complex and shifting political calculus at present, and looking ahead to Congress’ return to town in September. The story finds an increasing sense among members of Congress that the stall tactics of the House leadership have backfired, and notes that key members of Congress are working the backchannels to find a compromise:

[Rep. Jeff] Flake has assembled a handful of like-minded House Republicans who have held quiet discussions in recent weeks with potential allies across the aisle in the House and Senate, and at the White House. “It’s tough. We have to go around our [House GOP] leadership and show that a sufficient number of our members fear the impact of not acting,” he said. “But I think that we can get a majority of House Republicans” on board.

Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., who has devoted years to working on immigration legislation and has become a go-to lawmaker for those seeking bipartisanship, is talking with some of these Republicans. Although he’s eager to enact a “real solution with a comprehensive approach” this year, Berman said he hasn’t seen sufficient movement to warrant optimism. Much like Flake, he sent a warning to the majority party: “If Republicans walk away from here without acting before the election, it will be a field day for Democrats.”

For his part, McCain also warned that his party needs to combat the “Do-Nothing” label. “The guys who make a living by gauging these things say it’s not good for Republicans to go into the election without having acted on it, because people expect you to govern — that makes sense to me,” McCain said in an interview. To that end, he noted, “a number of us have been trying to reach out to the House guys. Everything is on the table, as long as you can accept that we have got to do other things [beyond border security]…. It’s just not healthy for us to be at this kind of loggerheads. It’s not good for us, for the party, for the country.”

In what may be a significant turning point, McCain, Specter, and other GOP senators, along with Flake and his group, met with House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., on July 27 for what participants said was a positive discussion. “We agreed after the meeting that there is common ground to do more than a border-security bill,” said Flake, a Judiciary Committee member. “All of us recognize that Sensenbrenner is up front as Judiciary chairman, that he’s trusted by conservatives, and that he knows the mistakes that were made in past legislation…. He wants secure borders, and more than that.”

The article then looks at potential avenues for compromise, discussing the Pence-Hutchison proposal and suggesting that some kind of “trigger mechanism” (i.e. immigration law changes after certain tangible improvements to border security) could be the basis for a compromise. But with time running short, and Congress only in session for only four more weeks before the election, it won’t take much to derail the legislation. And if the Democratic Party takes control of the House and/or Senate in November, they likely won’t want to move forward on a bill in a lame duck session, instead preferring to restart the process with a stronger hand in the 110th. The wild card is whether Pres. Bush weighs in directly to use his influence to try to get the bill passed. If he does (something that Sen. Specter pleads for in the article), then its changes of passage will substantially improve.

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