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Voters Hold the Key to the Future of Immigration Reform

Jun 15, 2012

Because the House and Senate will substantially impact 2013 and beyond, it’s worth looking at the Congressional election picture.

Miltner photo   CopyBy Ryan Miltner, attorney

Ryan Miltner will speak at Dairy Today’s 2012 Elite Producer Business Conference Nov. 6 in Las Vegas. Click here to learn more.

I think it’s officially time to write off immigration reform for this Congress. With less than five months between now and the November election, Congress will be hard pressed to pass those bills that it must consider, let alone address issues as divisive as immigration. Even if one of the two houses of Congress were to pass a bill addressing any aspect of immigration enforcement or reform, the chances that the other house, controlled by the opposing party, could or would pass such a bill are slim to none.
In that scenario, where the immigration can gets kicked down the road yet again, the makeup of Congress following the election will have a substantial impact what might transpire in 2013 and beyond.  In that case, it is worth looking at what the Congressional election picture looks like.
Starting with the House of Representatives, where Republicans currently hold a majority of 51 seats, polls are showing tight races, with either Democrats or Republicans holding slight leads, depending on the particular poll.  Even with abysmally low approval ratings (Congress’s approval rating is at 17%), incumbents are almost always favorites leading into House elections. What public opinion surveys show repeatedly is that voters might be upset with Congress but are far less frustrated with their member of Congress. 
Of the 25 House races identified by Real Clear Politics as the most likely to switch parties, 13 are currently held by Republicans. More importantly, of those 25, 11 are open seats. Open seats traditionally are more likely to switch from one party to the other. And of the 11 open seats, six are currently held by Republicans. Let's assume that Republicans lose all six of those open seats, and the remainder of the top 25 races stick with the current party holding the seat. We end up with a Republican majority of 39 seats. Turnout for the Presidential election will be critical, but it looks now as if Republicans maintain a substantial majority in the House.
Turning to the Senate, the current split is 53 to 47 in favor of Democrats. Polling data on individual Senate races is more available than for House races. So, we have much more to go on in looking at what might be expected after November. Of the 33 seats up for election, five Republican seats and seven Democratic seats are considered “safe.” Of the remaining 21, five are considered likely Democratic seats, while one is considered likely Republican. All of these seats are holds for the respective parties, except for two that swap--a wash. That leaves 15 seats up for grabs, with Republicans needing to win eight to gain control of the Senate.
Looking at those 15 individual races, 11 are currently held by Democrats. While all these races are considered competitive, the task ahead for Republicans to pick up four of eleven Democratic seats is a big task. There are open Democratic seats in Connecticut, Hawaii, New Mexico, North Dakota, Virginia and Wisconsin. Polls show that Republicans’ best chances in these contests are North Dakota, Virginia and Wisconsin. If all other competitive races remain in control of the party currently holding the seat, and Republicans pick up those three, we have a Senate tie. In that case, the Vice President would be the tie-breaker, and the Presidential election could determine effectively whether there is a split Congress or one with very tenuous Republican control.
What does this hold for immigration reforms? Well, if we end up with a split Congress again, probably more of the same--slow, lumbering discussions and minimal progress. If we end up with Republican control in both chambers, then expect a real uphill battle for comprehensive reforms. And if the Democrats pull off what looks like a long shot, wresting control of the House and holding the Senate, the chances of incremental progress might look a bit brighter. But recall that very scenario existed in 2009 and 2010 and resulted in --- nothing.
And finally, remember that five months are an eternity in politics. Everything I just analyzed might prove wrong by the time summer gives way to fall. Keep watching.
Ryan Miltner is an agricultural and estate planning lawyer in private practice. His agricultural practice is focused on dairy policy and the economic regulation of the dairy industry. The opinions in this article are his own observations prepared for Dairy Today and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any of his clients. Contact him at
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