Despite the obvious political incentives, Republicans return next week still in search of a legislative solution that would take the issue off the table politically without rupturing the party's conservative coalition.
Republicans see the need for a new position on immigration. A Republican organization, Resurgent Republic, reported on four focus groups that showed GOP primary voters are now more open to immigration reform with a path to some kind of legal status, but only with stringent conditions. Meanwhile, there is little evidence that public opinion among conservatives has shifted dramatically on the issue.
That is one reason why Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who is part of the group trying to reach a bipartisan compromise, has warned Democrats not to try to jam the legislation through. GOP leaders who want to see the reforms believe they need time to bring their base along. Immigration may offer the best current hope for bipartisan agreement, but not quite yet.
That leaves the budget as the biggest challenge, the most contentious issue and the most significant prize. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., speaking recently at a breakfast hosted by Bloomberg News, said there is nothing more important for Washington politicians than breaking the fever of angst and dysfunction that has been the norm to prove to voters that the system is not irretrievably broken. He said the "metric for that, whether we like it or not . . . is the debt, deficit [and] budget issues."
Between now and late summer, politicians will provide the answer to the question of whether Washington can govern. With the economy still struggling and the impact of the across-the-board spending cuts starting to bite, that's more than an idle question.