Friday, June 28, 2013

The House Where Immigration Reform Goes to Die

Did you see the big news out of Washington, D.C. this week?  I am not referring to the Supreme Court’s rulings on Affirmative Action, DOMA, or California’s Prop 8.  I am talking about the fact that 68 Senators agreed on a major piece of legislation.  Yes, 68 (!!!) Senators in this remarkably polarized era agreed on both the need to pass an immigration reform bill AND on the actual bill itself.  This is momentous.

Every Democrat and 14 Senate Republicans voted for the bill.  There were 32 Republican Senators who voted against the bill.  When I read the news, I was surprised and heartened—for about 30 seconds.

And then I turned my attention to the Place Where Bipartisan Bills Go To Die—the United States House of Representatives.  Speaker John Boehner has already said that he is not going to bring the Senate bill to a vote in the House.  Rather, he is going to bring to a vote a House version of the bill.  Boehner said, "For any legislation, including a conference report, to pass the House, it's going to have to be a bill that has the support of a majority of our members."

In English what he said is, “My crazy-ass Tea Party Caucus is, once again, going to kill this commonsense legislation because they do not know how to govern.  They only know how to say “no” to any idea that exhibits even a whiff of rational compromise.”

Boehner’s more conservative members have certainly gone to Washington and done just what they have said they would do—stand uncompromisingly against anything they feel is not conservative enough.  The thing is, the country is not an extremely conservative country.  America has always been a middle-of-the-road place.  Our politics play themselves out in the spaces just slightly left and right of center.   Ronald Reagan was not a right wing ideologue.  Barack Obama is about as Marxist as Richard Nixon was.  We value predictability in our national policies and we have had a remarkably stable national political history because of this.

The Republican Party is legislating itself into a corner where they will be left with older white voters as their only constituency.  Personally, this is fine with me.  They will be relegated to the status of a regional party with little chance of winning the Presidency.  It is fascinating to watch a Party struggle to find its own future.  The Tea Party radicals are pushing hard to the right, but the nation is not following.  Congress currently has a 10 percent approval rating.  I would argue that the main reason behind this abysmally low rating is the perception that the inmates have taken over the asylum in the Republican House.

Most Americans want immigration reform to happen.  When The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal agree on something, it must have some merit, right?  Many experts agree that immigration reform would be a boon to America’s efforts to reduce the deficit.  

Immigration reform needs to happen and the US Senate has crafted a compromise bill that tightens the border AND allows for a path to citizenship to people who have come to this country illegally but who have since worked hard, paid taxes, and made this a better country.  For any immigration bill to pass it will need to have pieces that please each side in the debate.  But it will also need to have pieces that displease each side.  Speaker John Boehner has proven unable to make his Tea Partiers see this truth.  They are willing—and PROUD of the fact that they are willing—to tear it all down in the name of ideological purity. 

So, my happiness over the Senate’s passage of the Immigration Reform bill passed quickly and was replaced by resignation that together, Congress cannot pass any meaningful bills until someone steps forward and gets the Tea Party Caucus in the House to act like grown ups instead of petulant children.

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