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A victorious GOP would shape the Senate's H-1B debate

Patrick Thibodeau | Nov. 4, 2014
Five points to consider if Republicans wind up in complete charge of Congress after the midterms.

Contrast Brat's position with fellow Tea Party fave U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). Cruz is considered among the Tea Party's most influential elected leaders. Last year, he supported raising the base H-1B cap by 500%.

Specifically, Cruz wanted to increase the 65,000 visa cap to 325,000. (There are currently another 20,000 H-1B visas set aside for advanced degree graduates of U.S. universities, for a total cap of 85,000.)

Three: Republicans could try a separate H-1B bill
The H-1B issue has never been a simply Republican or Democratic issue. Grassley's longtime co-advocate for increased restrictions is Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).

And Hatch teamed up with Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and Chris Coons (D-Del.) on legislation last year, the I-Squared Act of 2013, to allow the H-1B cap to rise as high as 300,000.

The H-1B increase has generally been tied to comprehensive immigration reform. Democrats, in particular, have blocked efforts to bring up the visa issue in separate bills because they don't want to weaken support for comprehensive reform. House Republicans, however, prefer a separate H-1B immigration bill. And that strategy has plenty of support in Senate.

Even with the Republicans in charge of the Senate, the demand for comprehensive reform - an all or nothing strategy - will still be alive and well. Senate Republicans will still need 60 votes to get a bill past a filibuster and if they want to go the standalone route, they'll want Democrats on board. That's because of opposition in the GOP from people such as U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), an outspoken opponent of the visas.

Would President Obama sign a standalone H-1B visa increase? If it's one that the tech industry wants, the pressure to do so would be enormous.

Four: The Republicans may be too roiled to do anything
Some believe that the next two years on Congress will be a lot like the last two years, but with more anger.

Next month, Obama is expected to release a series of executive orders to reform immigration. He can't unilaterally raise the H-1B cap, but he may makes changes to employment green cards that could make it easier for skilled workers to get permanent residency.

The most consequential step, politically, that Obama could take involves the approximately 11 million or so undocumented immigrants already in the U.S. If those executive orders include provisions to allow, for instance, some to of the undocumented immigrants to legally work, the Republicans in the House and Senate may go ballistic. Grassley has already attacked Obama's plan.

Obama's executive action could trigger so much political turbulence that the Republicans take no action on immigration at all.

 

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