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May 22, 2013 9:38 AM Now For the Hard Part

By Ed Kilgore

We might as well get the relatively good news of the morning out of the way: the Senate Judiciary approved comprehensive immigration reform legislation late yesterday by a 13-5 margin. All the Committee Democrats voted “yea,” even after they had to accept (a) withdrawal of an amendment providing equal treatment for same-sex partners in green card applications, and (b) amendments from Orrin Hatch on H-1B (“skilled worker”) visas that are deeply troubling to the labor movement. The H-1B amendments were enough to bring Hatch on board, where he joined Gang of Eight Members Lindsay Graham and Jeff Flake.

So the general buzz is that the margin in Committee will be enough to create a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate as a whole, particularly since Mitch McConnell has promised to back a “motion to proceed” to consideration of the bill—in essence an agreement to oppose any any front-end filibuster—when it comes to the floor in June.

But it’s helpful to recall that last month gun legislation survived a front-end filibuster as well, admidst high hosannas that the gun lobby had been “broken.” Senate opponents of the immigration bill got a boost of their own yesterday when a letter opposing the Gang of Eight bill from 150 high-profile conservative leaders (the less famous of whom were largely state tea party folk). Tellingly, the letter concentrates on comparisons of the immigration bill—its substance and the process that created it—to Obamacare. That’s an easy-to-understand argument to make against the kind of compromises that inevitably go into any “comprehensive” bill on any controversial topic.

Meanwhile, despite the announcement last Friday that the House Gang of Eight had reached an “agreement in principle” on its own immigration bill, nothing has actually been released, and now it appears a draft provision banning any government assistance for newly legalized immigrants in securing health care could endanger Democratic support, particularly outside the Gang.

So don’t get your hopes up on immigration reform just yet, even if Republican congressional leaders keep insisting it’s the one subject they won’t forget about no matter how central Scandalmania becomes to their overall political message.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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