Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013 | 10:25 a.m.
Immigration is the “top priority” for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and his team of top Democrats, who are confident 2013 “will be the year” that a comprehensive reform bill gets through Congress.
But they’re not going to rush things.
Senate Democratic leaders announced Thursday that they would consider the bill, once it is drafted, through the “regular order” — that is, a series of hearings and markups in the relevant subcommittees and committees and a full-out vetting on the Senate floor.
“We’re going to stick with that process,” Reid said. “We’re going to have legislation done in the Senate the way that it’s supposed to be done.”
In recent years, the regular process has often fallen by the wayside, as lawmakers have locked horns over political divisions and pressing deadlines have forced leaders to dispense with the formal process.
Republicans have regularly objected to the trend, clamoring for regular order on a number of legislative issues, most concertedly on budget issues.
“I look forward to the good old days,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, commenting that many of the newer members of the Senate — 43 of the 100 members are in their first term — are not used to the formal way of doing things.
But for immigration, the regular order would be somewhat unprecedented.
In 2007, when immigration was last the chief focus of the Senate, the bill was not put through the regular committee process. Instead, Reid invoked a procedure known as “Rule 14” to skip the committee process and set up a rapid-fire set of amendments.
Eventually, a dispute over the future flow of immigrants into the United States that played out during that amendment process soured sentiments about immigration and brought down the bill.
“I look back in retrospect and say it was a mistake not to go through the committee process last time, as difficult and hard as it is,” Schumer said. He said he hoped the regular committee process will help work out some of those kinks before the bill hits the floor.
Though Reid noted that there appears to be more support for a comprehensive bill in 2013 than there was in 2007, he committed to allowing a full amendment process on the Senate floor to ensure the immigration bill doesn’t run aground because procedural disagreements cause a political rift.
“Once it gets to the floor, I have made a commitment; we’re going to have an amendment process,” Reid said. “I don’t know how long it will take, but it may take a long time.”
Democratic leaders said they expected the Senate would complete consideration of a bipartisan immigration bill by the late spring.
“That would give the House ample time to take up legislation and pass a bill before the end of 2013,” Schumer said.