Immigration Reform is Probably Dead

| Mon Oct. 21, 2013 1:04 PM EDT

Dave Weigel reads the tea leaves from Chamber of Commerce president Tom Donohue this morning, and concludes that the business community isn't going to press for comprehensive immigration reform anytime soon:

Donohue's sounding more amenable to the House conservatives' approach to immigration reform, splitting up enforcement provisions (easily passed in the House) from legalization provisions (not as easily), not allowing a conference committee to merge the proposals. Josten is talking up the conference committee without making demands. The Chamber isn't nudging the GOP to do anything more than conservatives are asking. So much (again!) for a Tea Party-business split.

I agree about the much-ballyhooed business/tea party split. It could still happen, but the truth is that the business wing and the tea party wing of the Republican Party aren't really that far apart. In the budget showdown, for example, the preferred course of most of the business community was for Republicans to push as hard as they possibly could but to back down at the last second if they had to. And guess what? That's exactly what they did. What's not to like?

As for immigration reform, would the business community like to see a comprehensive bill pass? Sure, probably. Is it a huge priority? No, not really. Are they willing to go along with the obvious reality that it can't pass the House? It sure sounds like it.

Nor is the piecemeal approach going to go anywhere. The whole point of comprehensive reform, roughly speaking, is that conservatives get something they want (tougher enforcement) in return for giving liberals something they want (broader legalization). Will Democrats vote for individual enforcement provisions without the legalization provisions? Never say never, but they'd be idiots to do it unless the House agrees to a conference committee that stitches everything together into one big bill. Democrats know pefectly well that once you give away all the enforcement stuff, Republicans no longer have any incentive to ever address legalization. It's the only stick they have.

So as long as House Republicans stick to their guns and refuse to go to conference, immigration reform is dead. It's possible that some kind of very minor bargain can be forged. Maybe stiffer E-Verify requirements in return for more H1-B visas, for example. But it's hard to see how you get much more than that, and it sure doesn't sound like the business community is going to push for more.

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