- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 13, 2005

President Bush cannot push his guest-worker program for illegal immigrants and new foreign workers and still win reforms to Social Security or the tax code, congressional opponents said yesterday.

“There are a lot of ambitious plans, a lot of necessary reforms that need to take place, but this rush toward amnesty-light should not be one of the priorities,” said Rep. J.D. Hayworth, Arizona Republican, who called himself a friend and political ally of the president, but said Mr. Bush’s immigration proposal would hurt his broader legislative agenda.

“It would just be sad for the president to tie his shoelaces together right out of the starting block,” Mr. Hayworth said.

Mr. Bush, in an interview with editors and reporters of The Washington Times on Tuesday in the Oval Office, said he will put his political muscle into passing a guest-worker program this year and predicted that he would succeed. He also said he will overcome opposition to his immigration plan, Social Security reform and major tax-code changes, just as he did when he won a sizable tax-cut package in 2001.

“You’re probably sitting there saying, ‘Has the guy bit off more than he can chew?’ The answer is, we will work as hard as we can to get as much as we can get done, as quickly as possible,” the president said.

Last January, Mr. Bush proposed allowing foreign workers to apply for renewable three-year work permits. Illegal immigrants already in the United States would be eligible and would not have to face the deportation and waiting period before re-entering the country that the law now requires.

But soon after he made his proposal, the president’s aides faced tough criticism from Republican lawmakers at a retreat in Philadelphia, and Mr. Bush seemed to put the proposal on the back burner.

Now his renewed focus sounds “petulant,” said Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican and head of the House Immigration Reform Caucus.

“It almost looks like it’s just simply one of those ‘I’ll show them’ sort of things. It really does,” Mr. Tancredo said. “It does look like the fact that his efforts have been stalled by the last Congress — that really put him in sort of a feisty mood. It really does seem that way.”

Mr. Tancredo also said it would be a “waste” of political capital for Mr. Bush.

“When he talks about spending capital, a great deal has been depleted by the war in Iraq. Far more will be depleted by an attempt to change either the Social Security system or the tax policy of this country,” he said.

Mr. Bush faces a tricky legislative path in the House.

Rep. John Hostettler of Indiana, chairman of the Judiciary subcommittee on immigration, Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. of Wisconsin and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas, who controls which bills reach the floor, all oppose granting legal status to illegal immigrants in the United States.

“And then you come to the rank-and-file guys,” Mr. Hayworth said, “who, on nine out of 10 items agree with the administration, this is the 10th item. And now, if it goes to number one on the priority list, it is the item where there will be serious debate and discussion and ultimately rejection of this initiative.”

Despite the obstacles, there is a way to pass something through the House. If another immigration bill reaches the House floor, Mr. Bush’s supporters could use the amendment process to force a debate on their proposals.

The first immigration bill is expected to be a package of immigration and border security provisions that Mr. Sensenbrenner sought, but that was left out, for the September 11 commission intelligence overhaul bill.

Rep. Christopher B. Cannon, Utah Republican and an ally of Mr. Bush on immigration, said with Republicans and Democrats joining together, there is a consensus to go beyond Mr. Sensenbrenner’s bill, particularly on broader law-enforcement provisions.

“Immigration is an issue that, if we can get it on the floor, we’ll get a pretty good vote on it,” he said. “I am committed to having the best legislation possible available so that if we want to go beyond just the narrow law-enforcement issues, we’ll be able to do that in incremental steps.”

He also said he thinks Mr. Bush can push both immigration and Social Security this year.

“Having watched him operate for a long time, including when he was very new in office, and the people he’s got working for him, I believe he can,” Mr. Cannon said.

In the Senate, where there are far fewer vocal opponents, the path should be easier.

The new chairman of the Senate Judiciary immigration subcommittee, Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, who sponsored a temporary-worker bill last year, said he will hold hearings and raise the profile of the issue.

“I don’t believe amnesty is doable, nor do I believe that should be our goal, and I don’t hear the president suggesting that should be. Just to the contrary,” he said. “On the other hand, I would say we have 10 million people living in this country outside of our laws. I don’t believe the American people would have the stomach for deporting 10 million people, nor do I believe our economy could sustain the loss of 6 million people who are currently in our work force.”

One complication for the president is the Mexican government’s decision last month to publish a comic-book-style pamphlet giving pointers for how to cross the U.S. border and live illegally and undetected in the United States.

Mr. Tancredo said the pamphlet helps his cause because it will allow some guest-worker opponents who had been relatively silent an opportunity to stand up and be heard.

“It came at absolutely the best time for us and the worst time for them,” he said. “People who have felt this way for a long time but have bit their lip and have held their tongue now have a reason — they can be outraged.”

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