By DAN WHEAT
As United Farm Workers of America and other groups step up public lobbying for the Senate immigration reform bill, a lead lobbyist for agriculture says chances of its passage in the Senate are good but just 50-50 in the House.
The Senate likely will pass its bill by the Fourth of July but whether the House can pass a bill so a conference committee between both chambers starts before the August recess is a key question, said Tom Nassif, president and CEO of Western Growers Association of Irvine, Calif.
"It will be more difficult afterward. There won't be much time after that before the holidays and other bills and then electioneering (for the mid-term 2014 election," Nassif said.
"What they do when campaigning may be different," he said.
On June 13, the Senate rejected an amendment by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, by a vote of 57-43, that would have held off a first step toward legal status for 11 million illegal aliens living in the country until the Department of Homeland Security had maintained effective control of the entire U.S.-Mexico border for six months.
Proponents of the bill said that could take years to achieve.
The Senate bill likely has 60 votes, enough for passage, but the so-called Gang of Eight that drafted it wants to get more Republicans on board to reach 70, Nassif said.
That would require agreement on border security, which is difficult, he said. That element is also key in the House, where there also is a lot of skepticism about government enforcement of anything that passes, he said.
"I think we have to be very cautious about the House," Nassif said.
At least two bills and maybe another partisan group are forming there, he said.
An amendment by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., to extend benefits to gay partners of U.S. citizens in states where gay marriage is legal threatened the support of Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
Nassif said he and other CEOs of the Agricultural Workforce Coalition met with Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and aides of Rubio and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, to discuss lobbying senators who are on the edge. The CEOs also met with Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack, who is getting involved to encourage affirmative Senate votes, he said.
The CEOs are engaged in the amendment process, he said.
The coalition of the Agricultural Workforce Coalition, which includes agricultural industry representatives, United Farm Workers and other worker advocates, is holding together, Nassif said.
The Senate and House bills contain border security, electronic verification -- E-verify -- of eligibility for work, guest worker visas and elements pertaining to wages and workers' rights.
United Farm Workers President Arturo Rodriguez was among backers of the Senate bill who met with President Barack Obama on June 11 when he spoke for the bill at the White House as the Senate voted to begin floor debate.
The UFW and other organizations are seeking to mobilize support for the bill. Among those groups from Washington state are the Washington Growers League, Association of Washington Business, One America With Justice for All and the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.