Arrested Development

I read an article in The Economist earlier this week on U.S. Immigration reform efforts. The bill passed through the Senate 62-38 on June 27, although the true test will come in the House.

As The Economist itself notes of the House’s members, “Many represent districts gerrymandered to be whiter than a starlet’s teeth.” While I do not think the newsmagazine is accusing anyone of racism, the broader point is that the representatives in question represent the right part of the right wing and are purists when it comes to taxes, abortion, religion, and other social issues. Like immigration.

So like many bills that President Obama would like to see passed, there is a very good chance that the immigration bill too will land in the dustpan of history. That is too bad; the immigration reform bill would let immigrants pay back taxes, work hard, and earn a path to citizenship. The bill would increase visas for skilled workers and help unskilled workers under a guest-work program. The bill would also beef up border security. While this is probably the only part of the bill that seems to be a boondoggle with a proposed cost of $46 billion and questionable benefits, it is exactly what many in the Republican party want regardless of a broader immigration deal.

In other words, the immigration bill passed by the Senate has something everybody likes: immigration reform for Democrats, stronger border security for Republicans, and a way to endear an ever-growing and increasingly important demographic to both the Democratic and Republican Parties.

If Republicans can’t join Democrats and pass this bill, the consequences for the Republicans in the midterm elections won’t be bad in 2014; again, the districts are too gerrymandered to matter. Over time, however, the failure to pass common sense bills, with the immigration bill perhaps the most important one them all, will have roundly negative consequences for Republicans. In the meantime, the failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform is one more sign that in Washington, the art of compromise is an arrested development.

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