Asking for change
Local government leaders hope that a few key issues left unfinished by the 109th Congress will be resolved in 2007. But, the Democratic takeover of Congress, President Bush’s lame-duck status, and a wide-open 2008 presidential race inspire some doubts.
In 2006, Congress held lengthy debates on reforming the nation’s immigration and telecommunications laws, but because lawmakers could not compromise on several points, neither bill was passed. City and county leaders say both issues could have major effects on local governments, and they will push for their resolution in 2007. “From our perspective, [immigration reform] is an important issue to look at again. Because the immigrant population ends up coming into our health care and law enforcement systems and costing us, it’s important to look at it comprehensively,” says Ed Rosado, legislative director for the Washington-based National Association of Counties.
Local governments, like President Bush, support a comprehensive approach to immigration reform, with security provisions and a pathway to citizenship. In 2006, the Republican-led House passed legislation that focused on border security, and efforts to pass reform in the Senate were held up over disputes.
Rosado says it’s “a tough call” as to whether President Bush and the now-Democratic Congress can work together to get a bill passed. The real question, he says, is whether the Democrats can bring in enough votes from those who want a path to citizenship — as opposed to a security-focused bill — to stop a filibuster.
Whether passing a bill will be easier or more difficult, the new Democratic leadership and President Bush have identified immigration reform as a priority for 2007. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., “has said that passing a bill that is tough, fair and practical will be a key priority for next year and is expected to be among the first 10 bills we introduce,” says his spokesman Jim Manley. And according to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s, D-Calif., spokeswoman, Jennifer Crider, Pelosi has raised the issue already and hopes to work with Bush on a comprehensive solution.
County officials also will be closely watching whether Congress attempts to move forward this year on telecommunications reform. “We’re very concerned with the tax implications,” including a current moratorium on local governments’ ability to collect taxes on Internet services that expires this year, according to Rosado.
“It would be great if Washington didn’t do anything this year, especially on the issue of video franchising,” says Arvada, Colo., Mayor Ken Fellman. Bills passed in 2006 would have preempted local authority over franchising. In addition, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted Dec. 20 to adopt a rule that would preempt many areas of local control. However, local government groups have argued that the FCC does not have the authority to make that change without Congress and will fight that rule.
Getting to immigration and telecommunications reform might be difficult, however, because Congress’ top agenda items include addressing the continuing resolution that is currently funding the government and completing action on nine remaining appropriations bills.
The author is the Washington correspondent for American City & County.