The 113th Congress, refreshed by a five-week vacation following perhaps the least-productive legislative year in American history, returns to action this week.
One of the many pieces of unfinished business from 2013 is immigration reform.
The Senate last year passed a comprehensive immigration reform package that was dead on arrival in the House. GOP House members were more fearful of primary challenges from the right than any threat from the massive Hispanic voting population that is growing increasingly disenchanted with the Republican brand.
Conventional wisdom holds that there's little chance for immigration reform in an election year. While that may be true, there is some hope for action, particularly after the primary season passes.
"The chances of congressional passage of immigration reform are good because each party has political reasons for wanting to deliver for Latinos and the business community," Darrel West, an immigration policy expert at the Brookings Institution, told CBS News. "The biggest challenge is the pathway to citizenship, where the parties remain far apart. A possible compromise could involve creating a pathway that is longer and has more conditions that were in the Senate bill. That will displease reformers but provide cover for (House Speaker John) Boehner to move the legislation."
Tamar Jacoby, president of ImmigrationWorks USA, a national federation of small-business owners in favor of immigration reform. said business support for immigration reform could be key in 2014.
"Unlike in years past, when most employers hid from the debate, or at best worked the issue quietly behind the scenes, many companies are now eager to link their names with immigration reform: well-known national companies like Caterpillar, Marriott and State Farm Insurance, but also local mom-and-pop businesses like the 100 small business owners from Clark County Washington who organized this summer to post pro-reform flyers in their shop windows," she said in an opinion piece for CNN.
Perhaps. But those same business interests are likely to be focused on modifications to the health-care law taking full effect in 2014.
The politics of health-care reform also may get in the way of immigration reform. Republicans see identifying problems with the Affordable Care Act as their key political issue in 2014, and will be resistant to providing the Obama administration with what might be perceived as political victories on other issues.
The Republican-controlled House almost certainly won't pass anything along the lines of the Senate bill from 2013. But there might be opportunities for important incremental steps.
"The challenge for the GOP will be to pass a package of bills out of the House," Jacoby said. "The challenge for Democrats, in Congress and the White House, will be coming together for a deal on legal status rather than citizenship for most unauthorized immigrants."
The immigration reform options in 2014 are narrow, but not impossible.