Democrats are unified in favor of the bipartisan Gang of 8 immigration reform legislation that’s already passed the United States Senate. But Republicans are divided. A small group really wants immigration reform to pass (less, I think, out of concern for Latino votes than out of enthusiasm about the other pro-growth aspects of the bill) while a much larger group really wants immigration reform to die. That leaves a crucial swing bloc that doesn’t particularly want immigration reform to pass, but doesn’t really want Republicans to kill it either. Their best hope was really for disagreement inside Democratic ranks to make it impossible to forge a consensus with pro-reform Republican senators and thus the whole thing could simply fall apart. But that didn’t work out. So now they’re casting around for excuses, and they’ve come up with two lame ones.
The newest one is to link the issue to health care. Representative Raul Labrador of Idaho, a House Republican who used to be negotiating with Democrats for a bill but who’s now pulled out of the talks, stated this argument on Sunday on Meet The Press.
“If you look at this Obamacare debacle that they have right now, this administration is actually deciding when and where to actually enforce the law,” Labrador said, “and that’s what some of us in the House are concerned about.”
This plays well to the hard-right prejudice that Barack Obama is too much of a black Muslim socialist foreigner to be a legitimate president, and that his very presence in office suspends the ordinary rules of constructive governance and makes it reasonable to reject any and all efforts at compromise. Nevermind that the Obama administration has already overseen a record number of deportations, that Obama would be long out of office before anyone gets off a 13-year path to citizenship, or that House Republicans don’t actually disagree on the merits with a one-year delay in enforcing employer responsibility penalties under the Affordable Care Act. Of course the merits here don’t matter—if House Republicans want to kill the bill, they can kill the bill. But if they think this pretext will get them off the hook politically, they’re dreaming. Neither Latinos nor tech executives eager for more skilled workers share House Republican paranoia about Obama, and all linking immigration to the broader policy context does is reinforce exactly the message Democratic Party operatives want to send—if you want reform, you need to elect more Democrats.
The more nonsensical argument I’ve been hearing takes the Congressional Budget Office’s conclusion that the Gang of 8 bill would cut unauthorized migration in half and appends the word “only” to it. Get it? Immigration reformers say their reform bill will secure the border, but in fact it will only cut unauthorized migration in half relative to the current policy baseline. But of course not passing the immigration bill just leaves us with the current policy, which (by definition!) doesn’t cut unauthorized migration at all relative to the current policy baseline. So disappointment about the border security potency of the bill can’t actually be the reason for not passing it. The reason for not passing it would have to be what it plainly is—hostility to creating a path to citizenship for current unauthorized residents of the country that’s so intense that it outweighs other possible benefits of the bill.