Jewish World Review June 1, 2006 / 5 Sivan 5766 |
Between a Rock and Reform
Rep. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, denounces as "selling American citizenship" the provision in the Senate bill that requires illegal immigrants to pay back taxes and fines, a provision that its supporters, such as John McCain, call "earned citizenship." And last week McCain said that denying illegal immigrants Social Security and other entitlements is akin to forcing them to "ride in the back of the bus." Regardless of what one thinks of his immigration policy and his aggressive rhetoric in its defense, one must admire his willingness to undo, by teaming with Ted Kennedy to pass "earned citizenship" provisions, much of what he has assiduously done to ingratiate himself with conservatives.
As members of the House and Senate head for a conference to try to reconcile the stark and probably irreconcilable differences incorporated in their two immigration bills, Republicans are between a rock and a hard place. And another rock. And another.
First, if the conferees agree to anything like the Senate bill, the House will reject it if it comes to a vote. Speaker Dennis Hastert has a "majority of the majority" rule: Nothing comes to the floor that does not have the support of a majority of Republicans. Probably 75 percent of House Republicans including Sensenbrenner, who will probably be the lead House negotiator oppose the two pillars of the Senate bill, a guest-worker program and a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already here. Actually, there are three paths: one for those who have been here five or more years, one for those who have been here between two and five years, and a path away from citizenship and the country for those who have been here less than two years. This plan, which is a huge incentive for the sort of traffic in fraudulent documents that is already pandemic, is to be enforced by a government that will not or cannot enforce existing immigration laws.
Second, if the conference agrees to anything like the House "enforcement first and, for now, only" bill, it will be rejected or filibustered to death in the Senate. All but six Democrats voted for the Senate bill, which a majority of Republicans opposed, so it has no momentum for respect among House Republican conferees.
Third, if any legislation is passed that contains any provision that can be stigmatized as "amnesty," come November some of the Republican base, which is already boiling, will emigrate from the political process by not voting.
Fourth, if no immigration legislation is enacted, voters of various stripes may say, as voters said of congressional Democrats who were in disarray over a crime bill in the summer of 1994, that these people cannot govern and should be given, like unruly 8-year-olds, a timeout. The timeout is now in its 12th year.
Senators, only one-third of whom are ever facing imminent elections, are somewhat insulated by six-year terms from the public's fevers. And senators represent larger, less homogenous, more complex constituencies than most House members do.
There is more to democracy than government by adding machine merely counting numbers. There also should be institutional ways of measuring, venting and accommodating the intensity of factions. The Senate does that by permitting filibusters. In the House, two-year terms guarantee that intensities are registered. As Rep. Gil Gutknecht (R-Minn.) recently told The Post, "House members' elections are not periods with us, they're just commas. We keep our finger on the public pulse all the time, not just every six years."
The House is supposed to be the barometer that measures the political weather of the moment. It is not failing to do that.
Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in Washington and in the media consider "must reading." Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.