The 2014 Congressional Elections and Real Immigration Reform, Pt. 3

By Stanley Renshon on March 21, 2014

If Republicans gain control of the Senate, the chances for real immigration reform will dramatically increase. As Bill Kristol and Richard Lowry understatedly put it, "If Republicans take the Senate and hold the House in 2014, they will be in a much better position to pass a sensible immigration bill."

Kristol and Lowry are even more correct than perhaps they realize.

If Republicans win control of the Senate, they will certainly have more leverage on any immigration bill that passes in the House. And in the Senate, they will have control over the movement of any legislation through that chamber and on the legislative calendar. They will have majority status on all the committees that consider immigration legislation. Committee chairs and a majority of voting members will have control over the substance of immigration legislation and its drafting. They will be able to hold hearings on specific issues of interest to them and their views of how immigration reform ought to proceed.

And the Senate majority leader can appoint Senate members to any House Senate conference committee that may be necessary, with instructions as to the nature and range of issues to be discussed.

Yet there are two other very large issues at play in the post-2014 congressional election outcome regardless of the Senate results. And they both spring from the same structural consequences of congressional elections on the legislative operation of both Houses.

The basic structural change to congressional legislation and related procedural operations is as follows, according to one of my CUNY colleagues in answer to a question I raised: "At the end of the two-year session of each Congress, all of the pending legislation (at whatever stage it is) dies. When the new Congress convenes in January 2015, the Senate would have to start from square one, with the introduction of new bills, referral to committee, etc."

It's worth taking a moment to think about this process given a Republican Senate majority, and given a Democratic Senate majority.

Let's begin by assuming a more pessimistic outcome that Republicans fail to win control of the Senate. What then? Obviously, Harry Reid and his party will control the levers of legislative power noted above, including scheduling, bill drafting, the amendment process, and so on.

However, given that the Senate that convenes after the 2014 elections will be a new one, all previous bills that were not passed by both houses of the Congress, sent to the president, and signed into law begin at square one in the new 114th Congress. That includes the 2013 Senate immigration bill.

That bill will no doubt be reintroduced, and its re-passage, along party lines, would be likely. However, several things will have changed. First of all, some of the key players, if they have not changed because of electoral defeat (Lindsey Graham) are likely to change because of politics and the consequences of their support of the 2013 Senate immigration bill (Marco Rubio).

Second, the long, slow defeat of the Senate bill in the House has had several consequences, among them the fact that the public has had time to learn and digest the details of the Senate bill, altering the shape of the narrative debates. Many more people now realize, for example, that saying illegal migrants will "pay back taxes" as part of balancing an amnesty is a misleading rhetorical point, and known to be so. It is not a truthful statement.

And third, some members of the Senate itself may have learned something about the immigration bill that few, if any, of them read carefully, yet passed.

Next: The 2014 Congressional Elections and Real Immigration Reform, Pt. 4