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Sullivan: Why Obama is racing against the clock on immigration
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

By Sean Sullivan

The Washington Post

President Barack Obama used a very urgent tone Thursday in remarks designed to press House Republicans to pass immigration reform, calling on them at least twice to try to get it done "this year."

"Let's not wait," the president said. "It doesn't get easier to just put it off. Let's do it now."

Politically speaking, the president is right. The longer the immigration debate drags on, the lower the odds it will culminate in a bill on his desk.

Here's why.

Every day that goes by is a day closer to the 2014 midterm elections. And the months leading up to Election Day are a time for lawmakers to campaign, raise money, and do everything they can to hold on to their jobs. It's not a time for a contentious legislative debate that could complicate the fall campaign.

That's why history has shown that little gets done legislatively right before the election. Members are in their districts and states more and more often and less and less willing to take risks in Congress.

And immigration reform is a risky proposition for many House Republicans. Despite national polls showing the public largely in favor of overhauling the nation's laws, the calculus is often different back home. This is in large part why months after the Senate passed a sweeping bipartisan immigration bill, the House has yet to act.

But that doesn't mean it won't. Republicans have already moved ahead on some piecemeal measures. And House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Wednesday that he was "hopeful" something could get done by the end of the year.

Coming off a fiscal battle that badly damaged the Republican brand, there is, arguably, more political incentive for Boehner to act on immigration than there has been in the past. Republicans need to repair their image. Helping pass broadly popular reforms is one way to do that.

But there isn't much time left on the legislative calendar this year, and it's not clear whether Boehner will bring immigration to a vote before the year is up.

But this much we do know: Every day that goes by makes it increasingly difficult to pass new immigration laws.

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