Harry Reid told the Detroit Free Press that he expects comprehensive immigration reform to be passed relatively early in the next Congress:
Q. With more Democrats in the Senate and the House and a Democrat in the White House, how do you see congressional efforts playing out on such issues as health care and immigration?
A: On immigration, there's been an agreement between (President-elect Barack) Obama and (Arizona Republican Sen. John) McCain to move forward on that. ... We'll do that. We have to get this economy stuff figured out first, so I think we'll have a shot at doing something on health care in the next Congress for sure.
Q: Will there be as much of a fight on immigration as last time?
A: We've got McCain and we've got a few others. I don't expect much of a fight at all. Now health care is going to be difficult. That's a very complicated issue. We debated at great length immigration. People understand the issues very well. We have not debated health care, so that's going to take a lot more time to do.
One senator who wields significant influence on the debate is Robert Menendez, and he seems to be pushing ahead on the issue as well. Menendez is no extremist among Senate Democrats, either; he's just been named head of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee. Expect Menendez to lead a push--apparently with Reid's blessing--to get comprehensive reform passed in the first half of 2009. Proponents will argue that while the measure may be unpopular, it's better to swallow a bitter pill far in advance of the midterms. And if it seems that they lack the votes to pass it in the next few months, they'll bargain for a commitment for passage later in 2009.