Immigration pressure

The House will hold a series of hearings on immigration issues over the next several weeks, and much of the discussion will focus on Rep. Heath Shuler’s (D-N.C.) enforcement bill.

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) is not pleased with the move, to say the least. Its members don’t like the legislation and have been pressing their leaders to embrace a more comprehensive approach.

Democrats are in a tough spot, as were Republicans in the last Congress. Many of those regarded as hard-liners on immigration lost their 2006 races, and Democrats have largely sat back and watched Republicans gut each other on the politically sensitive topic.

Dealing with immigration is a must, but it comes at a political price. Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee for president, has not been talking about it unless forced to. His comprehensive immigration plan almost derailed his presidential campaign as conservatives repeatedly torpedoed it.

House Republicans, meanwhile, have gone on the offensive on Shuler’s bill, filing a discharge petition to force a floor vote on it. The legislation is bipartisan, though it enjoys more support from GOP lawmakers, including Rep. Tom Tancredo (Colo.).

Leadership officials regularly put their caucus members on notice not to sign discharge petitions. In the last Congress, a Republican here and there would back a discharge petition, but none came close to achieving the necessary 218 signatures.

Ten Democrats have signed on to the Shuler bill petition (filed by Rep. Thelma Drake, R-Va.), which has clearly rankled leadership officials. They felt like they had to do something proactive and when the news hit that hearings were scheduled, it didn’t come in a news release. Instead, it was leaked. The CHC, representing a key demographic during this hotly contested presidential election year, expressed its frustration with what was being done and how it was done.

The chances of the Shuler bill going anywhere this year are slim. The discharge petition is still 32 votes short of forcing a floor vote. It has also been referred to eight — count ’em, eight — committees. And not one of those panel chairmen is a co-sponsor of the legislation.

House leaders don’t support the Shuler bill, but Republicans are targeting some of the Democratic co-sponsors of the measure this November. They can’t criticize a bill that is backed by the so-called majority makers.

The decision to hold hearings is a good idea because hearings foster debate.

The first hearing comes Tuesday in the Ways and Means Social Security subcommittee. We hope it will help lay the groundwork for an effective immigration bill that can pass in the next administration.