Choosing between immigration and climate

CHOOSING BETWEEN IMMIGRATION AND CLIMATE…. We talked yesterday about the crowded legislative calendar lawmakers are facing before the midterm elections. Wall Street reform, obviously, is the current fight, but there are still two more major proposals — immigration reform and a climate/energy bill — that Democrats would love to tackle before the end of the 111th Congress.

But what if there’s only time for one? Democratic leaders appear to have prioritized one over the other.

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.

“The Speaker did agree that if faced with a choice between energy and immigration, she’d go with immigration,” the aide said.

Aides later emphasized that the discussion between the leaders wasn’t necessarily about tackling one issue and neglecting the other. “The conversation was really about timing, not an either-or kind of thing, but timing,” one staffer said.

I’ve seen nothing to contradict this, and Pelosi and Reid would no doubt love to complete work on both.

But there’s also a realization that, with time running out, it may come down to one or the other. In this case, that means tackling immigration, and putting off climate/energy for another day.

There are multiple angles to keep in mind here. First, note that the climate bill has already passed the House, and is awaiting Senate action, while neither chamber has moved on immigration thus far. It makes it the lift that much more challenging.

Second, remember that completing a climate bill in the future will be extremely difficult, since Republicans will almost certainly make significant gains in the midterms, and much of the party considers climate science some kind of nefarious plot cooked up by communists.

If the bill dies this year, after having already passed the House, we may not see another vote on the issue at all until 2013, at the earliest.