Now that the Republican hijacking of the federal government has been brought to an end, perhaps President Barack Obama and Congress can move on to other major issues that have been neglected too long.The president, in addition to wanting to work out a long-term budget deal, has said that he is now ready to push for passage of a comprehensive immigration bill, as well as rescuing the farm bill, which was gutted when GOP lawmakers stripped out the food stamp section.Just a few months ago, immigration reform looked promising, garnering bipartisan support in the Senate. A measure that was long overdue passed the upper chamber in Congress last June, but has been stalled in the House as recalcitrant Republicans simply couldnt stomach the idea of providing a path to citizenship for the millions of illegal immigrants already in the country.While the Senate bill has its faults including adding 700 miles of new fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border it is a compromise that, if passed, would be a giant step toward improving the entire immigration system and, at the same time, bringing illegal immigrants out of the shadows.Obama got re-elected partly on his promise to pursue the issue aggressively, receiving 71 percent of the Latino vote. He has not been as aggressive as many would like, even though theyre willing to cut him a little slack because of all the uncontrollable international crises and manufactured domestic distractions (like the shutdown of the government) he has had to deal with.But he shouldnt let anything get in his way this time, even though Republicans in the House are vowing not to negotiate with him because the president stood his ground and refused to negotiate on his healthcare law in connection with raising the debt ceiling and ending the government shutdown.House Speaker John Boehner, who has refused to bring the Senate bill to a vote, has said he wont bring any immigration legislation to the floor until a majority of his Republican caucus agrees.That, in effect, means never. Or, if there is a bill that the majority of his party would support, you can almost bet it will be terribly inadequate, one that would not pass the Senate and one that the president wouldnt sign if it did.Boehner, who has been on the losing end a lot lately, ought to be pressured into bringing the Senate bill to a vote. Its clear that on many of the important matters facing this country, the majority of his party in the House will reject just about anything the president supports.Therefore, it will be left up to the House Democrats and the moderate Republicans who are not afraid of the Tea Party to get an immigration bill passed.Since the government shutdown fiasco, in which the GOP unmistakably was the loser, the president has the upper hand, and he should take the opportunity to press forward with his agenda.By no means am I suggesting that Obama become a bully or deliberately attempt to undermine Boehners leadership, but he shouldnt back away from this fight again.Every time an election approaches and theres always an approaching election it is suggested that its the wrong time to bring up immigration reform.Frankly, theres no better time than right now as candidates prepare to file for office and gear up their campaigns for the 2014 contests. Let them state their positions on this issue, vote their consciences and then stand on their records.With comprehensive immigration reform checked off his to-do list, the president can move on to other matters that his persistent opposition inevitably will try to block.
Bob Ray Sanders' column appears Sundays and Wednesdays. 817-390-7775 Twitter: @BobRaySanders