Trying to put immigration policy back on the table

TRYING TO PUT IMMIGRATION POLICY BACK ON THE TABLE…. A crowded legislative calendar in the last Congress made immigration reform unlikely, and the breakdown of bipartisan talks made it impossible. With Republican gains in the midterms, including a new House GOP majority, any chance of passing meaningful legislation before 2013 appears remote, at best.

But there are apparently some preliminary efforts underway to try anyway.

Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) have rekindled their alliance on immigration reform, taking some early steps to test the political will for addressing the contentious issue this year.

Their call list hasn’t focused so much on House and Senate members who’ve been reliable pro-immigration votes in the past. Instead, they’re looking to a strange-bedfellows mix of conservative and liberal constituencies that can provide a “safety net” of support, as Graham put it, once the issue heats up.

It’s a credible enough initiative that Schumer’s office has reportedly sent word to “conservative evangelicals, the AFL-CIO, the Service Employees International Union, business organizations and immigrant advocacy groups,” that talks are prepared to move forward. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is back in the mix, too.

Comprehensive immigration reform is long overdue, and the basic framework of a worthwhile package is already in place — Bush, congressional Democrats, and some reform-minded Republicans agreed on a path several years ago, and the Obama White House would very likely endorse a very similar, if not identical, policy.

With this in mind, I’m glad Graham and Schumer at least have their hearts in the right place. They’re reaching out to newly-sensible GOP senators like Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and have apparently brought John McCain back into the discussions (though he promised voters last year he would refuse to negotiate on the issue).

But putting aside questions of whether it’s even possible to craft an immigration bill that could get 60 votes and overcome Republican obstructionism, I haven’t the foggiest idea why anyone would think the GOP-led House would even consider such a measure.

The Republican majority in the lower chamber has already said it would never pass the DREAM Act, for example, and that’s arguably the easiest and most popular part of comprehensive reform. As for a pathway to citizenship, GOP leaders in the House have effectively said such an idea is dead in the chamber before the debate even starts.

I’d love to be wrong about this, but unless someone came up with a way to pass important legislation without the House of Representatives, I’m inclined to put my hopes on immigration policy on hold for a long while.