April 30, 2014

Immigration-reform legislation is going nowhere this year.

Mark Zuckerberg's advertising campaign against Rep. Steve King in Iowa's 4th District won't change that stubborn fact.

Neither will the pro-reform statements from a handful of Republican members of Congress. Or the bold headlines in Capitol Hill tabloids proclaiming that immigration reform is "not dead."

And neither will House Speaker John Boehner's, R-Ohio, recent outburst about his colleagues' unwillingness to address the issue. Or the reports from some of Boehner's allies that the speaker is just itching to move an immigration bill.

"I seriously doubt it," one of Boehner's closest advisers told Potomac Watch last week.

Immigration-reform legislation is dead this year, as dead as that parrot in the old Monty Python skit. This issue is not merely resting, or pining for the fjords. It is dead.

For 2014, at least.

The reason is that John Boehner's life, and his management of the House, became much easier earlier this year when he essentially decided to agree with Steve King that President Obama cannot be trusted with implementing a new immigration law.

From all indications, Boehner strenuously disagrees with virtually everything King has to say about immigration. For one thing, the speaker believes the issue distorts the Republican Party's image with Hispanic voters and will pose a growing problem at the ballot box in the years ahead.

But Boehner wasn't going to argue with King and other conservatives about Obama's trustworthiness.

Boehner is frustrated, clearly. During a recent Rotary Club appearance in Ohio, he mocked House Republicans who won't move on immigration.

Conservative groups like Heritage Action sharply criticized Boehner, and some pro-reform Republicans said his comments didn't help. Boehner's office told everyone to relax, saying the remarks were in jest.

Most significantly, they do not signal a strategic decision by Boehner to take on his own right flank over immigration, especially in the lead-up to the elections.

Boehner and his leadership team have pursued a unity agenda since February, when he decided to fold on immigration, bringing measures to the House floor that usually enjoy broad support among members of the Republican Conference.

In March, there was a blow-up on the right over Boehner's handling of the so-called Medicare doctors' fix, which led to renewed chatter about Boehner's grip on the speakership.

On the other hand, he was able to pass a budget with the support of King and many conservative members.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., last week put out an agenda that includes spending bills, final action on a water-resources bill important to Iowa voters, anti-sex-trafficking measures, a high-profile contempt charge against a former IRS official and other measures that shouldn't cause fissures in the Republican ranks.

The House will be in session for parts of three more weeks in May, three weeks in June, four in July and three in September and early October. Lawmakers will spend most of their time working on the annual spending bills and taking votes designed to help Republicans on election day.

Immigration reform doesn't fit the bill, and that parrot is dead, for now.


Another round of anti-ethanol advertisements is running in publications like Politico, which are well read in Washington, D.C., policymaking circles.

A group called Smarter Fuel Future is running print and online ads that link ethanol to engine damage and attribute a string of ills to the Renewable Fuel Standard.

The group is an alliance of petroleum, marine engine and food groups. It charges that the RFS leads to environmental harm and worsening global hunger, as well as engine damage.

The ads come as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency nears a decision on this year's ethanol mandate under the RFS.

EPA's initial proposal would drastically cut back ethanol production from last year's levels, stunning the renewable fuels industry and its supporters in Congress.

But according to reports in the agricultural and environmental trade press, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy is signaling that the numbers will be adjusted, at least somewhat, in favor of ethanol producers. She has said increased demand for gasoline could allow the agency to raise the target for ethanol.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has been advocating for EPA to reconsider the initial decision both publicly and within the administration, according to reports.

King in late January wrote to McCarthy expressing his "serious concerns" and asking EPA to "reinstate the 18.5 billion gallon requirement for total renewable fuels."

This was the first time King has communicated with the agency on RFS issues, according to EPA records.

An EPA decision is expected in June.

In the meantime, the oil industry and the Smarter Fuel Future coalition appear to be pumping serious money into their anti-RFS campaign.

Ethanol's friends on Capitol Hill should be on high alert.