THE STATE OF...

THE STATE OF PLAY ON IMMIGRATION. Spent some time Picking Up The Damn Phone this afternoon, and got a much better sense of the political path the immigration bill still has to traverse. First, expect the temporary guest worker program to tumble from 400,000 to 200,000 workers, as Jeff Bingaman and Dianne Feinstein's amendment passes yet again. But this is a more complicated win than it appears at first glance: There's concern among certain liberal groups that if you drop the guest worker program too low, you simply amp up illegal immigration, which is actually worse.

Enter H.R 1645, the STRIVE Act. The House will spend June creating their own version of the immigration bill under the leadership of Zoe Lofgren, a Silicon Valley Democrat (so expect a much greater number of visas for high-skill workers in the final bill) and former immigration lawyer. She'll be under heavy pressure from unions and left-leaning groups to use Luis Guttierrez's STRIVE Act as the basis for her bill. STRIVE, which has a long list of cosponsors ranging from Rahm Emmanuel to Dennis Kuncinich to Silvestre Reyes to Jeff Flake, has a few advantages over the Senate bill, the most notable being its treatment of guest workers, who, after 5 years, $500, and evidence of English and US history classes, can apply for citizenship.

If such a bill is adopted in the House, the legislation will move to Conference with the Senate, which the Democrats control (liberals will remember the many times that Republicans used Conference in recent years to make compromise bills into conservative wish lists). Current thinking is that Bush will sign just about anything that emerges from the process, be it far to the left, or, as with the Sensenbrenner bill he approved last year, far to the right. He needs the accomplishment.

One last thing: The folks I talked to believe this is the year. Two years from now isn't an option. The particular political circumstances we're in are nearly unique: Bush has nothing left to lose but his involvement still provides cover for Republicans, Democrats can get an immigration bill without full ownership over it, the space is open for the subject because the President won't allow action on other liberal priorities and the Congress won't countenance any conservative agenda items, and so on. You have the RNC defending a bill that, were it offered under a Democratic president, they'd be tearing apart. Meanwhile, this just won't be a priority for the next president: President Democrat will want to do health care, not amnesty, and President Republican will want to get reelected someday. So this is the shot.

--Ezra Klein

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