On Immigration, Conference Means Ruin
And the failure of the GOP’s piecemeal approach.

House Speaker John Boehner



The following strategy would seem to be the only one that has the potential to keep piecemeal immigration reform authentically piecemeal. Let the House vote on its own independent measures. The Senate will be welcome to consider the House’s bills, and if it passes any of them, President Obama will of course be welcome to sign them. If the Senate wants to amend a piece of House legislation, it can do so, and the House can consider whether to accept the newly amended legislation. But if the Senate refuses to act on the pieces passed by the House, and insists on passing its own comprehensive bill, the all-or-nothing stubbornness of Senate Democrats is not the House’s fault, and the House will refuse to go to conference.

By keeping apart House bills from the Senate’s giant bill, this no-conference procedure would help House measures maintain their legislative integrity. After all, not going to conference on a bill is far from an unusual policy. As Walter J. Oleszek demonstrated in a study for the Congressional Research Service, well under 10 percent of all laws passed by Congress between 1999 and 2007 went through conference.

If Speaker Boehner and the rest of the House GOP leadership remain open to going to conference, proponents of forward-looking, pro-worker immigration reform will have little to gain and much to lose by supporting any new piece of immigration legislation. (As Andrew Stiles reminds us, a formal conference is not the only route to victory for the White House immigration agenda; informal negotiations between House and Senate leaders could also bring a “comprehensive” bill to the floor of each house of Congress. But going to conference on immigration would vitiate any efforts at piecemeal reform, and many of the dangers that a conference could pose for piecemeal reform also apply to informal discussions.)

In the increasingly Orwellian environment of contemporary Washington, where some are more equal before the law than others, supporters of an immigration system that affirms the dignity of all labor, promotes upward mobility, celebrates pluralism within a shared public space, and encourages an economic revival of the middle class have enough of a challenge before them; they don’t need any additional, self-inflicted wounds.

If House Republicans are serious about passing targeted pieces of immigration reform, refusing to conference with the Senate would seem a crucial component of that legislative strategy. But if the House does decide to go to conference, “piecemeal reform” could be another way of saying “let’s make the Gang of Eight 2.0 happen.”

— Fred Bauer is a writer from New England. He blogs at A Certain Enthusiasm, and his work has been featured in numerous publications.