If the Republicans win the Senate on Tuesday, the power shift will affect the nation's on-going H-1B visa debate.
The program's strongest critic, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), would become the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, putting him in a powerful position to shape legislation. But Grassley's power isn't absolute and he faces powerful foes. In Congress, divisions among Republicans over the H-1B visa run deep.
One: Republicans will still be fighting among themselves over H-1B policy
As the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Grassley will head a committee that controls immigration legislation in the Senate, dictating what bills are taken up, when and in what form they take. That's real power.
Grassley believes that H-1B visas are being used to replace U.S. workers and reduce wages, and he has sought curbs.
On other side of the spectrum is Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who heads the Senate Republican High-Tech Task Force. Hatch is completely committed to raising the H-1B visa cap and with the fewest number of restrictions possible.
Hatch is the Senate's primary advocate for the IT industry; just last month, he said, "Our high-skilled worker shortage has become a crisis," and pointed to strong demand for H-1B visas. There were 172,500 petitions for the 85,000 visas available this year. (That view ignores arguments that H-1B demand is not an indication of labor demand.)
Hatch also has real power to assemble votes. Here's an example: When the Judiciary Committee last year was taking up the bipartisan immigration bill, Hatch introduced a series of amendments supported by the high-tech industry to modify it.
The Senate immigration bill included a provision requiring employers to first offer a job to an "equally qualified" U.S. worker before taking on a foreign worker. Hatch threatened to scuttle Republican support for the immigration bill unless the equally qualified provision was removed.
U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who spearheaded the immigration bill fight on the Judiciary Committee, allowed the Hatch amendments to go through -- and the Senate passed a comprehensive bill. But the House of Representatives never took up the measure.
Will Grassley, as chairman, be in a stronger position to fend off the tech industry and fight Hatch? Grassley called the comprehensive bill a "stinky onion." He might be tougher than Schumer.
Two: H-1B support or opposition doesn't follow Tea Party lines
Something to keep in mind about the Republicans is that they can be very weird about the H-1B visa.
Former U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), at the time the U.S. House majority leader and an H-1B supporter, lost a primary challenge in June to David Brat, a professor at Randolph-Macon College with a Ph.D. in economics. Brat, identified with the Tea Party, has called the H-1B visa "high-skilled cheap labor."
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