It is 1,200 pages and nearly a year in the making, but the bipartisan Senate immigration bill passed last week on an overwhelming vote of 68 to 32.
The plan would allow 11 million illegal immigrants a rigorous, 12-year pathway to citizenship. National opinion polls are overwhelmingly in favor of immigration reform, including the path to becoming a citizen.
The bill would double the number of U.S. Border Patrol agents along the southern border and require the construction of 700 miles of fencing, at a price of $50 billion. It also would require employers to check the legal status of all job applicants using the government's E-Verify system.
Now the bill goes to the House, where lawmakers do not want to pass anything unless it is tax cuts. The Republicans who dominate the chamber do not want to do anything that is in agreement with President Barack Obama. And they do not want immigration reform if it includes a path to citizenship.
House Speaker John Boehner said last week that he would not put the Senate bill before his chamber. He also said he would bring to the floor only a bill that has majority support among his GOP colleagues. That's key. An immigration bill with the path to citizenship in it could pass the House with mostly Democratic and a few moderate and wayward Republican votes. But if the speaker is true to his word that's the end of immigration reform.
Another path is the discharge petition. If 218 members of the House sign on for the Senate bill, it would come to the House floor for a vote. House Democrats have 201 votes, so they'd need 17 Republicans to join them, plus one for every Democrat who defects, in order to pass the Senate bill.
What makes the most sense is for the public to pressure Mr. Boehner to let a real bill, with the citizenship provision, come to the floor. If a majority can pass it, he has no right to stand in the way. In fact, he has a duty to allow for a vote, especially when it is good public policy.