Comprehensive Immigration Reform Slated for Fall Action

Can Democrats Pass a Bill After Poisoning the Well?

According to the Hill, Congressional Democrats are planning to run up a trial balloon on comprehensive immigration reform in June, and then take a crack at passing a bill late this year or next:

Senate Democrats may be close to 60 votes on a measure that would represent the first step towards immigration reform under President Obama.

The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act is a concept dear to Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin’s (D-Ill.) heart, and while health care reform may get this summer’s headlines in Washington, the DREAM Act may be a sleeper…

The White House has scheduled a June 8 meeting among members of Congress on immigration reform. And President Barack Obama, a close ally of Durbin, has publicly declared his commitment to the overall idea…

Strategically, the [DREAM] legislation is likely to be rolled into an overall immigration bill to attract votes. Durbin says he has the votes to pass the bill, for example, but prefers to do it as part of a comprehensive immigration package…

The only sticking point appears to be timing and logistics — Democratic leaders are unsure if a comprehensive bill can be drafted before the end of the year. Schumer’s subcommittee will insist on input, as well as possibly other committees, and the looming fight over health care reform may push the issue into 2010…

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) appears on board with the idea, telling the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in a recent speech that he is “committed to offering this year comprehensive immigration reform that is strong, practical and fair.”

The Senate’s new math has put an overall immigration package within reach: At least 57 senators from both parties are likely to support such a comprehensive approach, with another 7 on the fence.

Newly converted Democrat Arlen Specter (Pa.) is “reviewing the legislation and considering his position” but is “in favor of comprehensive immigration reform in general,” according to a spokesman, and in other cases election results or appointments have put the necessary 60 votes within reach…

Far be it from me to suggest that Democrat leaders would ever do anything disingenuous, but I can’t help but wonder if they’re promising passage of legislation that they expect will fail. It’s clear that there’s a lot of active opposition to immigration reform including amnesty, and that the opposition becomes louder, more organized, and more effective the closer Congress comes to a vote. Durbin, Reid, Pelosi, Obama, et al, are certainly aware that Democrats in swing states and districts regard this as an extremely dangerous vote – one that can cost them their seats. Notwithstanding the decisive Democrat margin of control in the House and Senate, this will be an extremely heavy lift.

Given those circumstances, a cynic might suggest that Democrat leaders are raising false hopes, with the full knowledge that their own members will desert them when it comes time to vote. They won’t portray it that way, of course; they’ll do their best to pin the blame on Republicans. And hey: it worked under President Bush – when there were plenty of Republican leaders who supported the goal.

Comprehensive immigration reform will have far less Republican support this time around, because President Obama and his allies in the latino community attacked John McCain shamelessly during the campaign, with ads like this one:

Whether you agree with the goal or not, McCain stuck his neck out on a politically risky issue, and Barack Obama attacked him for it in a vicious, shameful, dishonest attack. And McCain’s ‘friends’ in the hispanic community said nothing. As a result, Obama and the Democrats will likely have to pass immigration reform almost entirely on their own, and it’s not at all clear they can manage it.

If they fail, do you think they’ll own take the blame for poisoning the well of bipartisanship?

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