With the threat of a U.S. default lifted and the government reopened after a 16-day shutdown, President Barack Obama quickly shifted the focus of his domestic agenda, putting a 2013 immigration reform bill among his top three priorities.
The president outlined on Thursday three policy areas where he said there is not only bipartisan agreement but also the real possibility of making immediate progress to “make a difference in our economy.”
In addition to pursing a balanced budget and finding consensus on a farm bill, Obama urged Congress to finish the work started on comprehensive immigration reform. The momentum pro-reform advocates saw earlier this year died off with the fiscal fight that ended Wednesday night, but now the president thinks it can come back.
“We should finish the job of fixing our broken immigration system,” Obama said at a White House conference on Thursday. “There is already a broad coalition across America that’s behind this effort of comprehensive immigration reform.”
The Senate passed its 2013 comprehensive immigration reform bill in June, which included an increase in border security and a 13-year path to citizenship for immigrants in the country without legal papers. However, House Republicans have said they will not act on that measure unless it is supported by a majority of their caucus.
“The majority of Americans thinks this is the right thing to do,” Obama said. “And it’s sitting there waiting for the House to pass it. Now if the House has ideas on how to improve the Senate bill, let’s hear ’em. Let’s start the negotiations.”
Obama encouraged lawmakers to not put off the problem for another year or longer.
“This can and should get done by the end of this year,” he said.
In response to the president's call for action on immigration reform, American’s Voice, a pro-reform group, said the principal question remains whether House Speaker John Boehner will act.
The group’s executive director, Frank Sharry, called Obama’s offer a “get-out-of-jail card” being presented to Boehner and “smart” House Republicans.
“Working with Democrats to pass reform will help the GOP rehabilitate their badly damaged brand; solve a huge political problem facing the GOP with respect to Latino, Asian and immigrant voters; and prove to the American people they can govern responsibly rather than recklessly,” Sharry said in a statement. “The window of opportunity is open now. The goal should be to move through the House in a way that leads to bicameral negotiations with the Senate this year and a bill to the president’s desk as soon as possible.”