Good news: Bipartisan group of House members working on immigration bill too

If you assume that some sort of terrible immigration reform bill is destined to pass, then maybe this is for the best.

According to a House member involved in the talks, the bipartisan group is extremely close to not only an agreement, but to actually producing legislation. While a specific time table is not yet known, a bill could be introduced in the next several weeks, according to this lawmaker.

“I’m very cautious because we’ve been here before,” the member said, pointing to previous failed efforts at reforming the system. But after four years of often intense, secretive negotiations by the group, legislation now appears to be close at hand.

A leadership aide offered a slightly more cautious assessment, but acknowledged the group which also includes border-state Republicans, Latino Democrats and others has made progress…

The involvement of Sen. Marco Rubio in the efforts both in the House and the Senate have been key, Democratic and Republican aides said. One Republican aide noted Rubio “has had extensive conversations with House members over the last three month” building on his unsuccessful efforts last year to find compromise on the Dream Act. Those discussions have included key committee chairmen as well as influential conseravtives like Rep. Raul Labrador, members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and leadership.

Boehner is reportedly “pretty optimistic” that a deal can be made, in case you thought House Republicans were prepared to torpedo the Senate’s efforts on immigration the way they’ll surely torpedo any significant gun-control bill that Reid can get through. So why is this, potentially, a positive development? Because, in theory, a House immigration bill will be more conservative than anything that comes out of the Senate and that’ll be useful in dragging Reid’s bill towards the right in the conference committee later. Although, admittedly, after the fiscal-cliff deal and the Sandy relief bill passed with only a minority of Republican votes, that’s a dodgier proposition. Maybe we’ve reached the point in the House now where Boehner’s all but abandoned the conservatives in the caucus and is prepared to pass key legislation with a huge majority of Democrats and a small but reliable band of Republican centrists — a total repudiation of the “Hastert Rule,” in other words. In that case, who knows just how squishy the eventual House bill will be? In fact, a friend who’s savvy about politics e-mailed me after the Sandy bill passed to say that immigration would be a true test of how far Boehner’s willing to go, and maybe also a test of how far conservatives are willing to let him go:

I’d suggest that something more subtle may be going on. What you *may* have on the GOP side with the Sandy bill, the fiscal cliff deal, and now a debt ceiling deal is a collective action dilemma. The party collectively does not want the political fallout from keeping those things from becoming law, but members don’t want to do the anti-conservative thing and vote for them, because they will catch hell back home. Thus, they have empowered Boehner to go make deals with the Democrats; that way, they get their cake and eat it, too: the spend-a-thon continues, but they can boast of how they voted against it.

The real test of my thesis versus the Roll Call article’s suggestion (that Dems control the House floor) will be on pieces of legislation that aren’t related to crises. Specifically, immigration and gun control, where the status quo of doing nothing is acceptable. We’ll have to see what Boehner does. If he lets the committee system do its work on these bills, then lets them go through Rules, and ultimately on to the floor with a majority of GOP support, that’s a signal the GOP caucus is in charge. If he negotiates with Reid/Obama, then brings bills directly to the floor, then yeah, the Dems are in charge.

Early bit of evidence in my favor: Boehner was elected Speaker just a day or two after the cliff deal. That tells me that he wasn’t really going against the will of the caucus. If he had, then we would have seen a bigger coup attempt than the idiotic one that happened.

Even if the draft of the House bill is more conservative than the Senate’s draft, the fact that Boehner has proved that he’s willing and able to get tough bills passed by relying on Democrats means Reid and Obama have every incentive to drive a hard bargain in the conference committee. They know there’s a moderate contingent in the House that’s prepared to defy the base; they also know that Republican leaders are in a white-knuckle panic about further alienating Latinos by being cornered on this issue. The votes will be there in the House for whatever Senate Democrats produce so there’s no reason to move to the right in their own draft. Only if the Republican caucus stuck together would the House have real leverage, but we already know that they won’t and thus don’t. In which case, I repeat what I said earlier: If the party really is convinced that a cynical, politically calculated cave on this subject is the only way to begin to heal the breach with Latino voters, despite even centrist conservative pundits warning them that that’s a sucker’s game, then they’re far better off voting for it unanimously than having a majority of the caucus split off and vote no on principle. That would be the ultimate gift to Obama but I think that’s what we’re destined to see. Influential voices on the right are already being raised against the bill, from Ted Cruz to Rush Limbaugh to the boss emeritus. Which House Republican from a strongly conservative district wants to run in 2014 with the base mad at him for voting to legalize illegals?