May 22, 2006

With the unyielding rhetoric coming from conservative members of the U.S. House of Representatives it is easy to wonder if passage of a Senate immigration bill even matters.  After all, even if the Senate bill passes it still has to be reconciled with the House bill in a conference committee in which James Sensenbrenner, author of HR4437, will be the chief House negotiater.  Then the committee’s final product has to be approved again by both the Senate and the House.

House Republicans have largely rebuffed President Bush’s 5-point immigration policy speech (as well as his chief advisor Karl Rove) in favor of enforcement-only measures.  Four of Tennessee’s five Democratic House members voted in favor of HR4437 as well, with recent statements from Harold Ford, Jr. (who is running for Bill Frist’s Senate seat) proclaiming his continued opposition to any “amnesty” program.  Unlike the Senate, where the “middle ground” has been largely successful in the form of the Hagel-Martinez votes, the middle ground seems to have no voice at all in the House.
So, does S.2611 even matter?  Yes, because the Senate will need as strong a hand as it can get going into a conference committee that will see little if any compromise from the House.  The stronger the Senate’s hand the more it can give up and still come out with a workable policy; the weaker its hand the closer the bill is likely to resemble the House’s version.
It is entirely possible that after all the work that immigration advocates have put into the Senate bill, that they may have to turn against it if the final product turns out to more closely resemble HR4437 than S.2611.  What is certain is that the work that advocates have done in the Senate in recent months will pale in comparison to what will be required to swing the House to a moderate position in the immigration debate.