It’s pretty quiet on Capitol Hill this week since Congress is at recess in their home districts. Good thing, because last week when I was there lobbying the tension was pretty thick on Capitol Hill. First, members of Congress were obviously exhausted from the battle on passing the healthcare reform bill. Second, members just aren’t cooperating with one another right now.
One House Representative said that he has never seen the tension so thick – that each week it seems to worsen and the leaders in Congress are not sharing information with the Rank and File members.
Of the members and staffers I met with, there seemed to be a consensus that comprehensive immigration reform will not likely pass this year, for obvious reasons: (1) the economy; (2) the divisiveness among the Republicans and the Democrats right now; and (3) the political impact for the midterm elections in November. Members and staffers were also doubtful that piecemeal legislation on immigration would pass this year.
However, several opined that there could be some gains from pushing CIR to a vote, even if it fails. By doing so, the President and the Democrats will be viewed as “keeping their promise” to move comprehensive immigration reform. Further, it would finally open the door for piecemeal legislation on immigration. If a CIR bill is introduced (which is likely) and actually moves through both House and Senate for a vote, it will have to be on the Schumer and Graham bill that is expected to be introduced. Members were unanimous in saying the Gutierrez bill introduced in December isn’t a possibility – it was termed as dead on arrival. In fact, members acted as if there weren’t any CIR bill proposed yet — it was as if that bill was totally meaningless.
It was clear that the H-1b category is still not favored by Congress. The best potential for peicemeal legislation appeared to be in the area of retrogression relief and/or healthcare reform. In fact, one staffer said it would be key to tie immigration legislation into how it can benefit the healthcare reform bill. In other words, now that Congress has passed healthcare reform, the focus will shift to how to make it work and supplying more healthcare workers such as foreign nurses, physicians, therapists, etc. could tie into that bill, especially since there are estimates that 30 million more people will be receiving healthcare. However, the staffer of a well-known Congressional member favoring immigration said it’s imperative for members to hear from hospitals about the need. They just aren’t hearing the need right now in the field of nursing because so many nurses have returned to the workforce because of the economy, thereby creating a “false impression” that there is no longer a shortage without looking at the long-term implications.