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Chicago Business - Immigration Bill Tough But Doable in U.S. House

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By Greg Hinz

Conventional wisdom right now is that comprehensive immigration reform is in deep trouble in Washington.

Sure it passed the Senate with 67 votes, the talk goes. But now it's headed to a conservative House in which Speaker John Boehner is vowing to block any bill not approved by a majority of his caucus -- a near guarantee of disaster given that most Republicans are more worried about primary attacks from the political right than national politics.

But conventional wisdom can change fast inside the Beltway. After talking in recent days with three key members of Illinois congressional delegation, I've concluded that a rough and rocky -- but real -- path to get something through by perhaps Christmastime is there.

"We can finish the job," said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill, one of the primary authors of the Gang of Eight bill that passed the Senate.

"There are political structures in the Democratic and Republican parties that are working hand in hand," said Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Chicago, a longtime firebrand suddenly turned strategist.

"This could happen," said Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Wheaton, who serves as Illinois' top House Republican as chief majority deputy whip.

How? Here's the path.

In the Senate, Mr. Durbin's job is done. For now.

The so-called "border surge" -- including doubling the number of federal agents on the border with Mexico -- provided enough cover for moderate Senate Republicans like Illinois' Mark Kirk to get aboard, while giving Democrats a clear if lengthy 13-year path to citizenship for millions of people here illegally.

Now it goes to the House.

Perhaps surprisingly to those who know his strong-worded ways, Mr. Gutierrez, a leader of the pro-reform camp, seems fixated on one and one thing only: getting to conference committee a bill that retains a path to citizenship. Just about everything else seems at least somewhat negotiable.
Ergo, Mr. Gutierrez talks about maybe spending even more money on, say, faster implementation of an employment e-verification system. And he recognizes that 'You cannot expect them (the House GOP majority) to simply adopt the Senate language. You have to give them something different." And if you do, he adds, "There are dozens and dozens of them who want to support something."

GOP'S WALL STREET WING

What Mr. Gutierrez (and Mr. Durbin) are counting on is that the GOP's Wall Street wing will kick in, the wing that sees bigger profits in expanded visas for high-talent immigrants, economic growth from more U.S. exports, etc. For them, controlling the executive branch of government -- something that requires Latino votes -- is far more important than holding one chamber of Congress.

The pro-business wing is just starting to flex its muscle and open its wallet, Mr. Gutierrez said. "I believe that the magnitude of the demand the urgency of the moment has not been felt yet in the House of Representatives." Yet.
Conservatives are suspicious, fearing that any bill that makes its way to a conference committee inevitably will be changed to their dislike. That explains in part why Mr. Boehner is talking about pushing a series of little bills, rather than one big one.

Mr. Roskam -- an ambitious guy who clearly hopes to move up in House GOP ranks -- puts a positive spin on the multiple-bills approach. "If you break it down, you can move forward and come up with a remedy," he said.

"It's like taxes. No one can defend the status quo. . . . There is a clear desire to move forward."

Mr. Roskam, in an interview yesterday, also said he wants tougher citizenship triggers than the Senate adopted.

But that's not all he said.

Asked if he wants to send a bill to a conference committee, he replied, "I do. There is a desire to turn the page on an issue that just has been agonizing the country for decades."

Perhaps even more significant, he more than tips his hat to the Wall Street wing.

"The shift I've been noticing in the House is on the growth argument," he put it. "It's beginning to get more and more tractionÂ…I think it's resonating with our members."

A little later, just in case I missed the point, he concluded, "My sense is that the growth argument is gaining."

Very, very interesting. A Luis Gutierrez who is looking for a way. And a Peter Roskam who says he wants a way. And an Obama White House that, under prompting from people like Mr. Durbin, is keeping its rhetoric and demands down.

It almost makes me think they're going to get this done in what ought to be an eventful rest of the year.


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