There are serious doubts about whether the GOP-led House and the Democrat-led Senate can reach an agreement. Even the title that Republican House committee chairman Bob Goodlatte has given to the hearing could spell trouble: "S. 744 and the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986: Lessons Learned or Mistakes Repeated?" The "S. 744 in the title is the Gang of Eight bill, while the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act is the spectacular failure -- one that led to the arrival of millions of illegal immigrants in the United States -- that many of today's lawmakers say they would like to avoid. Just bringing up 1986 is something Republicans who oppose comprehensive reform do a lot; Democrats, not so much. But on Wednesday, it will frame the whole issue.
There has been a lot of talk about the House version of the Senate Gang of Eight and the bill it is crafting. Well-informed sources say House Gang members have reached agreement on most, if not all, of the issues that stood in the way of their finishing a bill. But for the larger Republican caucus in the House, the question on immigration reform will not hinge on whether it can accept this health care provision or that guest worker provision; it will hinge on the fundamental question of whether they can accept the legalization-first, enhanced-security later structure of the Gang of Eight bill. It is the most basic disagreement between the parties over immigration reform. Many in the House GOP will not be able to support a bill that contains legalization first, and nearly all Democrats will not be able to support a bill that does not contain legalization first.
"To do legalization first, with promises of future enforcement -- that's just not going to work," notes one House Republican.