With Congress having cleared the decks on many fiscal items including the Continuing Resolution and their competing versions of the Budget Resolution, the House and Senate will tackle several contentious issues over the coming weeks. The Senate has engaged on gun control, invoking cloture this week on legislation to require a background check on all gun purchases. With staunch NRA opposition, Republican and conservative Democratic Senators seem unlikely to take up many of the President's top proposals on gun control. The ban on assault weapons as well as a prohibition against ammunition magazines carrying over 10 rounds both seem unlikely to survive the Senate. Successful negotiations between key Senators, led by Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Pat Toomey (R-PA), have led to compromise language on expanded background checks to gun show sales and firearm transactions online. While the NRA is not happy with this compromise and have threatened to "score" the vote on it, it is supporting a compromise by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Susan Collins (R-ME) on gun trafficking.
Immigration will also occupy center stage as the so-called Group of Eight have indicated that they are close to unveiling their proposal. In the House, separate negotiations are ongoing. Key to the Senate compromise is inclusion of a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants living in the United States. Reportedly, the proposal will include a cutoff date of December 2011, which would bar undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. after that date from seeking legal status and then citizenship. This proposal is seen as key to attracting Republican support, but it is unclear what reaction the proposal will generate from Democrats and organizations supporting immigration reform.
On the issue of work visas, the Chamber of Commerce and AFL-CIO had reached significant agreement on a new visa program to bring up to 200,000 lower-skilled workers a year to the country. The number of visas would fluctuate according to demand, and the workers would be able to change jobs and could seek permanent residency. Under the agreement 200,000 lower-skilled visas would be issued annually, with a cap of 15,000 for construction workers. But that agreement has been thrown into some doubt as a dispute has arisen over a push from the AFL-CIO for higher wages for those workers. Under the agreement, workers would be paid the prevailing wage for their particular industry.
For higher skilled workers, reports indicate that the Senate proposal would double the amount of H1B Visas issued every year by the federal government.
Prospects for immigration reform still are brighter than those for gun control legislation, but both face enormous hurdles that could easily derail enactment of either major initiative of the President.