Defunding Obamcare Doesn’t Change Odds of Immigration Reform

Byron York, the conservative reporter for the Washington Examiner, penned a piece on Monday about how Tea Party activists have focused more on defunding Obamacare than opposing comprehensive immigration reform during the August recess. York notes that this could be a major boon for immigration reform’s chances of passing the House:

GOP activists should also keep in mind what they can change and what they can’t. And at the moment, the thing they can change is not Obamacare but immigration reform.

If August goes quietly on the immigration front, some Republican lawmakers may return to Washington with the sense that voters back home don’t really mind that immigration reform goes forward. And then it will. If, on the other hand, lawmakers hear expressions of serious opposition at town meetings, their conclusion will be just the opposite. And reform will likely go down to defeat.

So Democrats don’t really mind if Republicans use up all their grass-roots energy railing about Obamacare. It’s already the law. What would be a problem for Democrats, and for some pro-reform Republicans, is if the GOP grassroots concentrated its fire on immigration reform. That could well mean the end of President Obama’s top legislative priority for his second term.

The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent and Washington Monthly’s Ed Kilgore picked up on this as well today, but I just can’t see any way this happens.

There are really three possible ways that immigration reform passes:

  1. A majority of Republican House members support it so Speaker John Boehner can bring it to the floor without breaking the Hastert Rule. This would require at least 117 House Republicans to support the legislation. Boehner will only have those votes if he brings a very conservative bill to the floor. But such a bill would receive no Democratic support and would also lose a number of Republicans. With only 234 House Republicans, the Speaker can only lose 16 of them or else the bill won’t pass. This puts him in a bind. Any bill that receives majority Republican support will lose too many moderate Republicans to pass.
  2. Boehner breaks the Hastert Rule and passes immigration reform with strong Democratic support. This would almost surely end his speakership and is thus highly unlikely to happen.
  3. Seventeen House Republicans agree to sign a discharge petition with all House Democrats (or a couple more House Republicans and a few less House Democrats) so that the bill is automatically brought to the floor, without support of House leadership. This would be an incredibly risky move for any Republican. It would antagonize the top Republicans and likely lead to a primary challenge. Thus, it’s also highly unlikely to happen.

Given those three possibilities, does less pressure from the base change anything? Maybe a bit. A few Congressmen may feel more willing to vote for the bill than if they faced major pressure during the recess. But let’s assume options two and three aren’t happening. That means that a lot of Republicans will have to support a moderate bill so Boehner doesn’t break the Hastert bill, but it still receives Democratic support to pass. The Tea Party hammering away at defunding Obamacare may convince a couple House Republicans that supporting moderate legislation is acceptable. But I can’t see how it will convince enough of them.

Not to mention, the reason Tea Party activists aren’t up in arms over immigration reform is that, as York writes, they think they’ve killed it already. If it comes back from the dead, they aren’t going to sit around and continue yelling about defunding Obamacare (well, they’ll still do that some surely). They’re going to scream at their representatives to oppose the bill.

How many of those House Republicans who supported the bill when they didn’t hear opposition to it during the August recess are still going to support it when that opposition does materialize? The answer: Not many.


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