Robert Novak

WASHINGTON -- Both the Senate Republican leadership's unofficial agenda for the last pre-election session of the 109th Congress beginning this week and a privately circulated White House wish list are extraordinarily heavy. That means the planned adjournment date of Sept. 29 surely cannot be met, and even Oct. 6 may be too early. Yet, immigration is not mentioned on either expansive list.

This is remarkable because Republican members of Congress who talked to constituents during the August recess found the mood of the party's base remains as sour as it has been all year: unhappiness over too much government spending and unchecked illegal immigration under a Republican Congress and administration.

Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson, a moderate conservative who is a hard-liner on immigration, was quoted last week reflecting the consensus of his colleagues. Congress will do nothing about immigration until its lame-duck session after an election in which Republicans may well have lost congressional majorities. Isakson stated these reasons for inactivity: Congressional field hearings on immigration will not be concluded until mid-September, and intraparty GOP differences on the issue remain unsettled. The failure of Republican leadership on the issue of the year is palpable.

In the House at least, Speaker J. Dennis Hastert is trying to address immigration. He plans to bring together chairmen of the House field hearings later this week to see what can be done before the election. But House GOP sources say there is no chance of the party accepting a guest worker program that is integral to any compromise reform. The resolute House Judiciary Committee chairman, Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, during the recess labeled as a "staggering burden on American taxpayers" the Senate-passed bill (approved by President Bush) because it contains the guest worker program.

Immigration is the most melancholy element of a depressing Republican year. The Iraq intervention and its aftermath have hurt, and Republican inattention to runaway government spending has been deplorable. But immigration is the issue most likely to cause rank-and-file Republican voters to stay home on election day, and it may cost the party its congressional majorities.

When Republican Rep. Mike Pence went home to his east central Indiana district in August, he found constituents upset -- as they had been all year -- about spending and immigration. Chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, Pence has courageously taken the position that a border security bill should not omit a guest worker program (that does not include a path to citizenship).

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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