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Editorial: Can Congress pass immigration reform by year’s end?

Now that the U.S. House has passed a water resources bill in surprisingly bipartisan fashion, it should do the same for immigration, an issue with strong support among the public and in Congress across both parties.

The Senate finally passed a bipartisan package (S. 744) on a 68-32 vote in June. The president reiterated on Thursday that immigration reform this year is a top priority for him.

The question is whether the same tea party faction in the House that favored the shutdown will allow a House floor vote. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Wednesday that immigration is an “important subject that needs to be addressed.”

Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, a son of immigrants and dairy farmer who represents the Central Valley, has said Boehner has promised a House vote by the end of the year. “I’m going to do my best to hold him to that,” Valadao said.

Citizen activists rallied across the country on Oct. 5 calling for action. That, however, was overshadowed by the shutdown.

At the same time, a coalition of more than 500 Republican, Democratic and independent mayors and business leaders is planning to descend on Capitol Hill on Monday to meet with House Republicans from more than 20 states. They range politically from Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg to anti-tax activist Grover Norquist.

And the Wall Street Journal reports that big Republican donors are withholding donations from members of Congress who don’t act on immigration.

These folks support the bipartisan Senate bill.

Given that the House has only 20 scheduled legislative days before the end of the year – and we’ve already had years of contentious debate and significant give-and-take – why not do a test vote on the House floor to see if the Senate bill would pass?

If the Senate bill fails in such a vote, then try a different approach. Currently, some House members are working on “step-by-step” measures instead of one bill.

That is less than ideal. But White House spokesman Jay Carney said Thursday that the president would not object if the House passes “several” pieces of legislation on immigration reform so long as he can sign comprehensive reform in the end. “There are a variety of ways to reach the ultimate goal ... the House’s approach will be up to the House,” Carney said.

This could be an opening to get past the rancor of the shutdown.

That bitterness was apparent in remarks six days ago by Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, who has been a supporter of immigration reform in the past. He told USA Today, “It’s not going to happen this year. After the way the president acted over the last two or three weeks where he would refuse to talk to the speaker of the House ... they’re not going to get immigration reform.”

Isn’t that a bit like cutting your nose off to spite your face? Such a stance does nothing to “punish” the president, but it does set back the country. Can the House Republican leadership recoup and show the American people and the world that they can do positive things – not just action to shut down the government?

U.S. Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Donohue at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast on Monday said the business community will press for a House vote, “an opportunity to show the world we can get a big thing done that we can all benefit from.”

Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., urges Republicans not to think of immigration reform as working with the president, but as “working on behalf of the American people – not for an Obama solution, not for a tea party solution, but for an American solution.”

The Senate has done its work. The president has indicated he will sign immigration reform. Now it is up to the House to show what it can do in 20 days.