Citizen Staff Writer
Washington is growing into an increasingly principled town – maddeningly so, a true politician could say.
In the old days, a bill would be introduced, words would be measured, positions hedged, someone’s nephew would get a job as an undersecretary, a bridge to nowhere would be built, and presto! Just like that, legislation is birthed into imperfect creation.
Today, opinions are formed ahead of time, battle lines drawn, hardballs thrown, ideology defended in puritanical terms and no one’s mind is going to be changed by anything.
It’s hard to say that an immigration reform bill supported by political opposites such as Sens. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., and Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., is too liberal or too conservative.
Yet immigration reform is in the ethereal plane between life and death. Principle put it there.
Kyl and Kennedy promised Friday to resurrect their old-school “grand bargain” on immigration reform.
A day before, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pulled the bill from consideration after a second vote to end debate failed to get the 60 votes needed.
Senators fixated on what they couldn’t abide.
On the left, Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said it didn’t do enough to protect U.S. workers and would create a permanent underclass.
In the middle, Jim Webb, D-Va., wanted to cut back on who could stay in the country legally. Jon Tester, D-Mont., called it amnesty. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., joined Kyl in arguing the issue deserved more time for debate, which Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, would not give.
On the right, it was all amnesty all the time. Giving millions of illegal immigrants a mulligan, so long as they pay a $5,000 fine, was just too much “amnesty” to stomach.
The battle within the GOP was brightly illustrated in Arizona.
Both the state’s senators are Republicans and both supported the bill. Their base literally went off the hook, with phone calls coming in 20-to-1 against the bill, said state GOP Chairman Randy Pullen.
“This bill was blanket amnesty and the majority of the Republican Party opposed it,” he said.
So the state Republican organization took a stand against the bill, like a number of other state party organizations.
“In poll after poll,” Pullen said, “people say they want to secure the border. I don’t know why we can’t pass a bill that secures the border.”
The answer, even Pullen knows, is because there aren’t enough votes to secure the border without providing those who came here while we left the door open some legitimate status.
Nor are there votes to provide legitimate status to illegal immigrants without cracking down at the border.
The country is too divided to produce the one-party dominance that gave America the New Deal or the Great Society.
The wings need each other to get what they want but they would rather the other side not get what it wants, so they’ll settle for nothing at all.
This isn’t opinion. It’s observation.
Kyl, in negotiating the bill, understood.
“Do I want to stand on the sidelines or get into the game and affect the outcome?” he said the night he, Kennedy and others finished their compromise.
Republicans such as Pullen wanted Kyl either on the sidelines or crafting an enforcement-only bill that had no chance in the Senate even when Republicans controlled it last year.
Democrats also took hits from their base for accepting less than “open borders and blanket amnesty,” said U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz.
“They (some Democrats) are being horribly unrealistic and aren’t doing any favors to millions who are trapped right now,” he said.
The social conservatives are scaring moderate Democrats who don’t want to get in an amnesty argument, Grijalva said. And he’s hearing from leadership that the House now may not even take up immigration.
“I would be real disappointed if the House tucked its tails between its legs,” Grijalva said. “You’ve allowed one side to capture the attention of the debate. It’s created a lot of fright.”
If it’s not done this year, don’t look for immigration reform to come back until presidential politics, campaign promises and midterm elections aren’t in the mix. That would be between noon and 3 p.m. Feb. 9, 2011?
Immigration reform is a white-hot issue. So is health care reform, the solvency of Social Security and Medicare, balancing the budget and energy independence. A majority of lawmakers can find a holy cause to defend to the death in any of those issues.
Until the principled learn to play well with others, purity will be the limit of their success.
Contact Blake Morlock at 573-4692 and at email@example.com. See his blog – “Is This Thing On?” – at www.tucsoncitizen.com.
• Past Blake Morlock columns at www.tucsoncitizen.com