It happened with Medicaid expansion.
And now, the same kind of critical mass of support appears to be forming behind immigration reform.
The latest evidence is the mobilization of evangelical Christian churches, many in conservative congressional districts, behind reform.
This follows the strong endorsement of immigration reform by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, joining hands with law enforcement officials and labor unions across the country. Tech companies are also pushing hard for reform, along with industries like agriculture, hospitality and education.
That kind of bipartisan spirit was reflected in the makeup of the Gang of 8 that drafted legislation in the Senate. In particular, Arizona’s two senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake, both Republicans, have worked with Democrats and the Obama White House to get a reform bill through the Senate.
Republican leaders in the House have said the Senate bill is “dead on arrival.” But in the background, another bipartisan reform group, this time made up of House members, has been working quietly on a compromise package. The idea is to get to the House floor a bill that will pass, then send it to a conference committee with the Senate, where the real bargaining will begin.
Unlike the strong grassroots protests to Obamacare three years ago, immigration reform has not generated the same kind of outcry. On the support side, unions and other groups have put together high-profile rallies in many major cities, helping to raise the issue’s profile this summer and keep it high.
In Arizona, where lawmakers and the governor took such a strong and strident stance against illegal immigrants in 2010, the voices of reform seem to be loudest now. McCain is on a town hall tour of the state during the five-week congressional summer recess, and opponents of reform, although vocal, are not being disruptive.
The main arguments against reform center on giving amnesty — i.e., a path to citizenship — to people who have broken the law by entering the country illegally. But as McCain and others point out, this is already the case — except the amnesty is de facto because the federal government is not about to deport all 11 million undocumented aliens living here.
As with the Medicaid expansion plan, the jobs and payroll taxes argument is carrying the day with businesses and union leaders, while church groups cite a moral duty to welcome the stranger. The Congressional Budget Office has said immigration reform carries little to no additional net public costs because of the higher taxes collected by bringing undocumented workers out of the shadows.
Medicaid expansion in Arizona ultimately passed because Republican leaders in the Legislature saw key members of their caucus join with the Democrats in support. We don’t know how the GOP votes stack up in the House, but it takes just 218 votes to pass a bill, and there are already 195 Democrats in favor. We’d be surprised if there aren’t at least 40 or 50 Republicans in the House willing to support reform. It’s time they got a chance to vote on it.