Not to overlook the Wall Street reform bill in Congress, but we have an important new development in the priority ordering for the next major bill:
Democratic leaders are pushing ahead with plans to move comprehensive immigration reform legislation this year — even if it means punting on energy legislation until next Congress.
According to Senate Democratic aides, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) agreed during a Tuesday afternoon meeting that a “moral imperative” exists to move immigration reform in 2010. The decision to press ahead on such a controversial issue now — in an election year — comes even though Democrats have had little success attracting GOP support for their initiatives in the 111th Congress. Hispanic Members have been ramping up the pressure on President Barack Obama to force the issue with Congress.
During the meeting, Reid “reiterated his intention to move forward” this year on immigration reform, one aide said, adding that Pelosi agreed it is a top priority, even beyond energy legislation.
I’m a bit surprised by this. Unlike climate change, the House hasn’t passed their own immigration bill, and given the makeup of the Democratic caucus they’ll be hard-pressed to do so. And with some of the key Republicans who supported a comprehensive package the last time Congress took it up in 2006 now arguing for border security or against reform altogether, the math doesn’t look too hot either.
But there are definitely political reasons for moving immigration up. Harry Reid has made lots of promises about immigration reform in his home state of Nevada, which has a rising Hispanic population. The President has his reputation on the line over this as well. And in general, Democrats may feel that wedging Republicans and permanently splitting them off from Hispanic voters, the fastest-growing segment of the population, is good politics.
That said, at this stage of the legislative calendar, these bills are a zero-sum game. If immigration moves up, something else must move down, and that would be the climate bill. John Kerry, Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman plan to drop their version of a bill next week, but they’ve already lost two key Republicans, who have split off to try and push their own scaled-back bill:
Republicans George V. Voinovich of Ohio and Richard G. Lugar of Indiana are developing an energy-only bill that would mandate new renewable and nuclear power production without imposing cuts on carbon emissions. [...]
“I’d like to get something done,” [Voinovich] said. “But I’m not sure it would meet the standards of the environmental groups or what Sen. Kerry would like to get done. I’d like to do the doable — move it down the field while I can.”
Given the giveaways to industry that KGL have been handing out, given the weakness of their overall approach, I could see the value in a pure renewables and energy efficiency bill (without the nuclear industry subsidization). As Dave Roberts at Grist says, there are a variety of ways we can tackle climate change beyond pricing carbon, and it becomes harder for Congress to mess up energy efficiency or improving the electrical grid, or even local control issues like utility reform or controlling sprawl. I don’t see any kind of numbers for a real carbon pricing scheme in the Senate, so we might have to put in a renewable standard and hope we can put sulfur in the air or giant mirrors to block the sun’s rays if it comes to that.
As for the Republican reaction to this, given the target-rich environment for them of “illegal aliens” or “uppity climate scientists who want to control us,” it’s probably six in one, a half-dozen in the other.