Posted By: January 08, 2014


Ray O’ Hanlon. Irish News ( Belfast). Wednesday, January 8, 2014

“A Chance.” That was the assessment of more than one pundit on the political chat shows as we looked towards the new year. The chance in question concerns comprehensive immigration reform, now a hardy perennial in American politics, though one that has remained mostly below ground in most recent years. 2014, however, might be the year that reform finally gets to flower.

If you were taking wagers on reform it would be advisable to spread the bets because it has been a favourite before, only to stumble in the home straight.

The racing analogy works well because when the pundits say ‘chance’ they could be referring to a horse in a big race, say the Grand national, racing’s equivalent of the crap shoot.

Back in 2007, with Ted Kennedy and John McCain in the saddle, the horse called reform looked like it only had to canter home after the big two cracked their formidable legislative whips and secured passage of a Senate reform bill.

But it was not to be.

In the aftermath of the failure of McCain/ Kennedy there was a view that reform would not see the light of day for many years given the pair’s towering stature within their respective parties.

And indeed this was the case in the immediate years after McCain/Kennedy came a cropper.

Senator McCain shied away from the cause as he sought the presidency and Senator Kennedy would pass from this world, his 21st century reform dream unrealised.

Kennedy, of course, had helped successfully steer reform bills through Congress in earlier times, and indeed going right back to the 1965 landmark Reform Act, the one that ended the era of relatively easy Irish passage into America, but opened the doors to many other national groups deemed at the time as being disadvantaged.

Kennedy would later speak of the “unintended consequences” of the ’65 act for the people of his ancestral island.

There has been little or none of the unintended about the reform process in the present Congress, deemed the worst in US history in a range of opinion polls.

As such, the passage of a Senate reform bill last June was a remarkable standout in that it succeeded with a measure of bipartisan support.

The names on the cover of this latest Senate bill are different to what they were back in 2007. The names are now Schumer, Durbin, Graham and others.

John McCain is still around, more a commentator from the sideline than an on the-field player. Nevertheless, his support for reform remains crucial.

But at the start of 2014 all eyes are on the house of Representatives, more responsible for those lousy opinion poll assessments than the certainly less than stellar Senate.

The house is a deeply divided institution, and one that finds itself in its latest election year, a mid-termer.

It has been in the house that the predictions for reform have ranged from legislative death to legislative life support.

The cause seemed doomed just a couple of months ago but Speaker John Boehner has suggested that it might yet have a chance. President Obama continues to call for change, and there is near unanimity in support of reform in the ranks of house Democrats.

It all comes down to Boehner and his deeply divided Republican caucus.

While immigration reform is a matter that affects the entire United States, and would have repercussions right around the world, a complex series of calculations in an array of congressional districts will decide the issue. The hardest resistance to reform comes from house Republicans such as Iowa’s Steve King. The trick for Democratic house members is to identify and bring on board those Republicans who feel willing or able to face voters in their districts in november while backing a house match for the Senate bill.

One such house bill already exists, but it’s a purely Democratic creation. And only three Republicans to date have expressed support for it.

The task, then, for the reformers will be to identify at least 20 moderately-inclined house

Republicans who will back a bill that closely enough resembles the Senate measure so as to avoid a loss of support from liberal wing Democrats.

Speaker Boehner – lately more inclined to crack the whip against the Tea Party cohort in his party – stands to be the decisive figure in the month ahead.

If he looks at the smaller picture, ie. the individual house races and the near-term goal of simply retaining the house Republican majority, then reform prospects take a hit.

If he looks at the bigger picture, which includes the 2016 presidential contest, then reform’s prospects improve.

Polls show broad-based public support for reform and both parties stand to benefit if they can lay claim to a role in its success.

But the reform naysayers are a steely, determined lot and if you were tempted to have a flutter in 2014 the Washington Reform Stakes might be one to avoid.

Still, a chance is better than no chance. Best keep an eye on the inside rail.