This week in Washington, it's all about deadlines. While the White House ponders extending the deadline to buy health insurance without paying a penalty, the president is pushing Congress to reform the country's immigration system by the end of this year. As somber-faced contractors behind the glitch-ridden health care website came under a hailstorm of questions from the House on Thursday morning, President Obama was fired up.
"You look fired up to make the next push," the president told the crowd in the East Room in a booming voice reminiscent of early campaign days. "It is time. Let's go get it done."
Flanked by Vice President Joe Biden, Obama said "everybody knows" that the current immigration system in the United States is broken. "It's not smart; it's not fair; it doesn't make sense," he said. "We have kicked this particular can down the road for too long."
Obama said the majority of the general public favors immigration reform, and the polls back him up: Three-quarters of Americans believe immigration policy needs a major overhaul, with 35 percent saying it needs to be "completely rebuilt," according to a Pew poll in May. Another poll a month later showed that 71 percent of Americans believe undocumented immigrants should be allowed to stay in the country, but 77 percent said any legislation that allows that should also boost border security. On this, Democrats and Republicans remain split: The former thinks legal status applications and border improvements can happen at the same time; the latter wants to focus on borders first. This divide is likely to be at the center of policy negotiations in Congress.
That future, at least during the next two months, looks bleak, and the president knows that. "Now, obviously just because something is smart and fair and good for the economy and fiscally responsible and supported by business and labor, the evangelical community and many Democrats and many Republicans, that does not mean that it will actually get done," Obama said, drawing laughter. "This is Washington, after all." In other words, if Obama's deadline isn't met, it's going to be because of congressional gridlock.
In Washington, Obama said, some lawmakers are primed to oppose immigration reform legislation, such as the Senate bill passed earlier this year, because of its Democratic support. "I'd remind everybody that my Republican predecessor was also for it when he proposed reforms like this almost a decade ago," he said, referring to George W. Bush's immigration proposal in 2007, which is substantively similar to this year's language.
"There are going to be moment — and there are always moments like this in big efforts at reform — where you meet resistance and the press will declare something dead," Obama said. "It's not going to happen, but that can be overcome." With 2014 drawing closer, the window for talks on immigration reform legislation — let alone passing any — is shrinking. The issue may not be dead yet, but it's not looking so good.