Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Harry Reid, Immigration Reform, and the Senate Schedule

By: Jordan Young

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made waves today after laying out the Senate's schedule for the next seven weeks. His statement that comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) would not be a top floor priority for this work period was pounced on by many in the media, who portrayed it as a flip-flop from his declarative statements over the weekend to a crowd of reform supporters. "We're going to come back, we're going to have comprehensive immigration reform now," Reid said. "We need to do this this year. We cannot wait."  

Media outlets seemed taken aback today when Reid said, "We won't get to immigration reform this work period." The New York Times called it a retreat. Talking Points Memo said Reid had "dashed [reformers] hopes."  

This meme seems a bit dramatic to me. Reid's first statement was certainly breaking news. He endorsed tackling CIR this year, which was far from a certainty before. He promised to be working on it as soon as Congress returned from break, which they are. Chuck Schumer is still working on drafting the legislation, so, realistically, "working on" here means moving the bill forward toward the goal of passage later this year. It certainly didn't mean that Reid had a pre-written bill in his back pocket the Senate was going to vote on this week. And I don't really think CIR supporters thought it did mean that, so to say their hopes have been dashed seems a bit insulting to serious reformers' intelligence.  

Reid's statement today was specifically about the Senate's legislative calendar for the next work period, meaning the period between now and the next recess in about seven weeks. The idea that CIR wasn't going to make it to the floor inside of seven weeks isn't really shocking news. It doesn't mean CIR is off the table. Reid's spokesman also said today, "Once a bill is drafted, we hope to get it on the floor as quickly as possible.”  

Now, all of that said, the bigger news here is the calendar itself. Reid made clear that the priorities for this work period are financial regulatory reform, food safety regulations, energy and climate legislation, and post-Citizens United corporate-campaign reform. You can also tack onto the schedule for this year an overhaul on No Child Left Behind, which is up for consideration this summer, a repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the Medicare SGR Fix, a long-term extenders bill, ratification of the new START treaty, the confirmation of a new Supreme Court justice, and, oh yeah, an ELECTION.  

Reid's commitment to passing CIR during this Congress may or may not be realistic given this long list of priorities. Truthfully, it is difficult, though not impossible, to see the Senate getting all of these things done, even a fraction would be impressive. The number of check marks we could place on the progressive agenda would be staggering.  

At any rate, this is shaping up to be a very interesting year to be in politics.  

UPDATE -- The Immigration Policy Center has spoken to Reid's office and insists that there was no backsliding. His "staff has assured us that he intends to take on CIR in 2010.”

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