Michael Barone

"It may be down the line that we will come to some terms on a timetable, with border security first and employment verification first," he told the Times. Enforcement has "got to be in place firmly. But I don't think the Senate will pass a bill that's limited to that," adding that decisions on a timetable would "come in very hard-fisted negotiations at the end of the rainbow."

The third development was the meeting in the White House of Rep. Mike Pence with George W. Bush and Dick Cheney on June 28. Pence, chairman of the House Republican Study Committee, has advanced a guest-worker plan based on that of Colorado rancher Helen Krieble, which would allow workers to apply in their home countries to "Ellis Island centers" run by private firms, which would match them with jobs from employers in the United States. It's an attempt to get around the current cumbersome green card bureaucracy. Guest-worker slots would not lead to citizenship, but would legalize workers who comply. The Pence program could be phased in after a period in which border security is strengthened.

The Cannon victory, the Specter concession and the Pence plan point toward a possible compromise that could conceivably be adopted by a conference committee and win majorities in both houses. In the process, they direct the attention of those on all sides of this issue to the practical, concrete realities of American life. If advocates of border-security-and-employer-sanctions get their way, and there are high-tech steps to close the sieve on the border and create a forgery-proof identification card system, then what happens to the 7 million or so illegal immigrants who are currently working in the United States? Presumably they go away -- but in the process, we lose a labor force that our economy needs to maximize production. If advocates of a comprehensive bill get their way, and we don't have high-tech ID, then presumably we'll still have millions of illegals in our midst.

It is surely not beyond our technological capabilities to secure the border and to provide legal worker identification, at least if we subcontract these tasks to the private sector, which is so much better at these things than government. Neither the House nor the Senate bill seems likely to achieve those goals. So it's good to note that there's a chance, maybe only a small chance, that a conference committee can come up with a bill that does.

Michael Barone

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2011 THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM