Will Congress Consider Immigration Reform?

September 8, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
Christina Bellantoni joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the issues Congressional leaders were focused on prior to the start of their vacation — and the deepening crisis in Syria — including immigration reform.

HARI SREENIVASAN: What will Congress be doing in the upcoming session when it’s not discussing Syria? Joining us now from Washington for that is Christina Bellantoni, she is the NewsHour’s Political Editor.

So, Christina, this would otherwise be a consequential week in Congress. What else is going on?

CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: There are a lot of things on Congress’ plate. When they left for an August recess, one thing we thought the House would be turning to is immigration reform. The Senate passed by overwhelming bipartisan majority a comprehensive bill. Lawmakers on the House side are not as in favor of a comprehensive approach so they are going to put some piecemeal pieces of legislation on the floor to start considering those that might address the visa system and that would get people closer towards some sort of compromise package. That’s not going to happen, especially given what is happening with Syria. But the other major piece of this is spending: the debt, the deficit and what they are doing about funding the government.

HARI SREENIVASAN: One of the folks that we spoke to on Facebook was asking ‘What about the government shut down. Why isn’t anybody talking about that?’ What do we have, nine days or so left when they get back?

CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: Exactly. Congress will have nine working days and what they need to do is come up with what is known as a continuing resolution. This is because of a divided government, they don’t actually have the ability to pass a real budget that keeps the government funded and looks at different levels of spending for different agencies. Instead they have short-term resolutions usually that in place for one year. But that has been getting shorter and shorter. This is the third time we have had such a big argument about how to fund the government. And it expires on September 30, so if there is not a new continuing resolution in place by then, that means you could have a partial or full government shutdown.

And the big sticking point here is that lot of House Republicans or conservative Republicans in the Senate would like to see the President’s healthcare law defunded, parts of it that will be implemented over the fall over the next few months, they can take away the funding for that. And so that’s where the fight lies.

If that isn’t agreed to by that September 30 deadline — it could be a real fight. In addition to that, you have the limit for what the government can spend on its debt. And that is coming to pass very soon. So that is all getting lumped into one big argument about spending.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So a little bit about this Obamacare push again to try to repeal it. It has been attempted many different times. Why now?

CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: Well, partially you see groups like the Heritage Foundation and other conservative groups really capitalize on the popularity of some of the conservative Senate republicans. Senator Ted Cruz is one of them. Senator Mike Lee of Utah is another. And they’ve been out there all summer really beating the drum on this. And they are actually planning a massive rally on Tuesday. I should not necessarily say massive. We don’t know which size it is actually going to be.

And the focus is mostly on Syria and we’ve got the presidential address on Tuesday. They are going to have this ‘Defund Obamacare’ rally in Washington on Tuesday to really make the case for that, to to say we have a lot of unanswered questions about it. They are angry that the White House delayed the employer mandate for implementation of the health care law. And what they are really trying to do is choke it a little bit so it doesn’t get fully implemented. Meanwhile, Democrats are using this as a campaign issue, as well.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Christina Bellantoni, Political Editor of the PBS NewsHour, thanks so much.