Hurry up and wait

Hurry up and wait.

That’s how they live life in the military. 

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And it might not be a bad strategy to enact a comprehensive immigration bill into law.

The hurry up part is already over. 

The Senate hurried up and passed a bill that achieved two objectives. It had pretty deep bipartisan support, including from two important conservative leaders (Marco Rubio and Jeff Flake). And it included a path to citizenship, an essential part of any credible immigration bill.

The Senate bill also had a bunch of crap in it, as does any piece of bipartisan legislation. The border surge is a complete waste of money. The E-Verify stuff is going to end up alienating a lot more people than anticipated. The use of drones to monitor 100 miles beyond the border will make some folks nervous.

But, on balance, the Senate bill was a worthwhile exercise. It got all of the essential elements from which to make a real immigration reform bill. 

Predictably, the House has a different opinion than the Senate on where this legislation should go. And that is how it is supposed to be. The House is a different body, representing different constituencies and with a different timeline when it comes to elections. 

Every House member faces the voters a year from November, but that is not the election that Republican members are most worried about. They are most worried about getting the approval of their party in the primary elections that take places at scattered times in the next year.

Most House primaries are done by next June, and it would stand to reason that waiting for the primary elections to conclude would be a prudent strategy before hammering out a final agreement. 

It has been conventional wisdom that doing an immigration bill in an election year would be too risky. 

But let’s say for argument’s sake that the House passes a flurry of promised elements of a comprehensive bill in separate pieces. Let’s say lawmakers pass a tough border security bill, something on E-Verify (God help us), something increasing the number of high-tech visas, something for farm workers, and let’s throw in something to improve the assimilation of new citizens (mandatory English, for example). 

Then, let’s say that the House and Senate then preconference those bills without actually going to conference for the rest of this year and perhaps for a large chunk of next year. 

Then, let’s say that those huge forces that say they want a bill actually organize an effective grassroots operation instead of wasting money on inane television commercials.  Let’s say that the Business Roundtable, the Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Business, the National Association of Manufacturers, the high-tech community, the Catholic Church, the Southern Baptists, the Fraternal Order of Police and just about every group that says that it wants our broken immigration system to be reformed starts to really work at it.

And they do so not by sending high-priced lobbyists to darken the doors of the Capitol, but by mobilizing actual voters back home to let members of Congress know that getting our immigration system fixed is important to them. 

This could take a while because it is hard to amplify the usually quiet voices of everyday citizens over the yelling of a few haters. And most polls show that most Americans want our broken immigration system to be fixed. 

And as we all know, most members of Congress are pretty risk averse. If this grassroots operation should culminate in a vote that occurs safely after the bulk of GOP primaries, that wouldn’t exactly be the end of the world. 

And if the negotiations drag on until after the election, it wouldn’t be the first time significant legislation got passed in a lame-duck session. 

It was important that the Senate hurried up and passed its version of comprehensive immigration reform. It might be equally important the House wait around for a while before it takes its final action.

Feehery is president of Quinn Gillespie Communications and spent 15 years working in the House Republican leadership. He is a contributor to The Hill’s Pundits Blog and blogs at thefeeherytheory.com