Senate opponents did more than just vote against immigration reform. They voted in favor of letting a serious situation get even worse.
An attempt to stop debate on the controversial measure and bring it to a final vote, where passage was by no means certain, fell 14 votes short of the 60 needed. Without the Senate going first, the House won’t even try.
That means another attempt at immigration reform probably won’t come until sometime after the 2008 election.
The vote, with 37 Republicans voting in the negative, was a stinging rebuff of President Bush, who personally lobbied for what would have been the last major legislative initiative of his presidency.
The question facing his legislative aides now is how much the estrangement of the president’s own party will affect two of his other salient initiatives, continuing support for the war in Iraq, with a critical test on funding it coming this fall, and reauthorizing his No Child Left Behind, which many Republicans would like to water down.
The bipartisan sponsors of immigration reform grandiloquently called their compromise measure a “grand bargain,” and it was in the sense it had something for everybody to find fault with. Just about everybody did, whether the path to legal residency, the visa preferences, the guest-worker program, the employer penalties, the mandatory IDs or the vast and costly bureaucracy needed to administer it. And the bill was easy to demagogue.
Passage required the lawmakers to join hands, take a deep breath and jump into the pool all together. It didn’t work. And the individual parts of the package will not pass piecemeal. Opponents are arguing for stepped-up border security, saying that reform will have to wait until we first get control of our borders. This is a nice conceit and the lawmakers will pay lip service to it — who can be against border security? — but without the tradeoffs in the bill the hugely expensive border construction projects will be quietly nickeled-and-dimed down to token size in the committee backrooms.
The outcome in the Senate was acceptable only if you’re happy with the status quo. As the Senate was acting, a story moved out of California that the Border Patrol had discovered a man and two women trying to sneak into the country in the engine compartment of a pickup truck.
That sucking sound H. Ross Perot heard was not American jobs heading south but impoverished and desperate workers being sucked north by the vast engine of the U.S. economy.