The Art of the Deal
Can Congress really forge an immigration compromise?
The administration was singing a happy tune last week when, after more than three months of pain-staking negotiations, it reached an agreement with Democrats on immigration reforms deemed a "grand bargain." White House spokesman Tony Snow called the deal a template for progress on future domestic policy issues. Still, the Bushies shouldn't count their chickens just yet. The immigration legislation has many hurdles to clear before becoming law-and prospects weren't looking so good late last week.
Hurdle No. 1, perhaps surprisingly, will be the Senate, where the measure will be debated this week. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a key Republican negotiator, quickly predicted the deal would win 60 Senate votes, but many crucial members were backing away by week's end-including Majority Leader Harry Reid. There is likely to be a fight as organized-labor advocates and conservatives team up to try to cut a guest-worker program in half, says Manhattan Institute immigration expert Tamar Jacoby. And a battle royal in the Senate could cause big troubles in the House, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said Democrats are deeply divided; she won't bring a bill to the floor until 70 Republicans there support it.
That will be tough. Rep. Tom Tancredo, who has been pushing a crackdown on immigration, tagged last week's compromise "a blanket amnesty," because it would grant most of the 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States legal status, although they would have to pay $5,000 and wait eight years for a green card. Democrats and religious groups chided plans to lessen the role of family ties in immigration decisions while focusing more on workers with skills that are in demand. "When the New York Times and talk radio hate the bill, who's left to vote for it?" Jacoby asked last week. Lawmakers who have toiled mightily on the issue certainly hope that after all the work, there's somebody.
This story appears in the May 28, 2007 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.