If House Republicans are going to once again kill comprehensive immigration reform – and by all appearances, that’s exactly what they intend to do – they’re going to need a good excuse. This won’t be easy.
President Obama recently drew laughs by mocking the very idea that Congress would kill a popular, bipartisan proposal: “Obviously, just because something is smart and fair and good for the economy and fiscally responsible and supported by business and labor and the evangelical community and many Democrats and many Republicans – that does not mean that it will actually get done. This is Washington after all.”
It’s left Republicans in the awkward position of explaining why they’re prepared to kill the bill anyway. In September, some congressional Republicans actually suggested, out loud, that the conflict in Syria meant lawmakers wouldn’t be able to tackle immigration reform, which is obviously silly. Then Republicans said they wouldn’t have time to work on immigration, which wasn’t much better. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) recently suggested the House can’t take up immigration because the legislation has too many pages.
Late last week, the search for a credible excuse somehow got worse when House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) blamed the Affordable Care Act during a floor debate with House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).
“We don’t want a repeat of what’s going on now with Obamacare,” Cantor said during a floor colloquy. “That bill, constructed as it is by the Senate, last-minute ditch effort to get it across the finish line. I think that there is a lot that could be done a lot better in that bill.”“Let’s be mindful,” he said, “of what happens when you put together a bill, like Obamacare, and the real consequences to millions of Americans right now, scared that they’re not going to even have health care insurance that they have today by – come January 1. And there are plenty of reasons for that. The mishaps with the websites, the call centers, the stolen identities … some of which could be blamed on the process by which it was put together. We don’t want to make that mistake again.”
As a matter of substance, Cantor’s desperation to rationalize the death of immigration reform has led to a truly incoherent argument, even by his standards. First, the Affordable Care Act wasn’t a “last-ditch effort”; it was the result of a legislative process that took nearly a year and went through five congressional committees. Does Cantor not remember the debate from 2009 and 2010?
Second, Cantor’s just making up health care problems – have we really reached the “stolen identities” phase of the debate? – that exist only in the imaginations of far-right Republicans. There are some legitimate problems with the implementation, but they’re unrelated to the legislative process from four years ago, as the Majority Leader should probably understand.
And finally, if Cantor wants to be taken seriously on immigration, he’ll have to do better than “Obamacare has a dysfunctional website.” Regardless of where one stands on the merits of immigration reform, this is plainly silly, and not an argument that will persuade anyone when voters head to the polls in the midterm elections.
Let’s make this plain: there’s a popular, bipartisan immigration bill on the table, and it’s been pending in the House for months. It’s passed the Senate and it enjoys White House support. It’s backed by the American mainstream, business leaders, labor unions, religious leaders, deficit hawks, economists, GOP strategists, and immigrant advocates. It has nothing to do with Syria, the Affordable Care Act, or congressional Republicans’ unwillingness to read long bills.
Cantor and House Republican leaders can bring it to the floor for a vote and let members exercise their will, or they can block a vote and risk the public backlash, but either way, the ridiculous excuses for failure aren’t doing anyone any favors.
* Update: The Wall Street Journal reports that House Republicans also don’t want to even consider immigration, because it might “change the subject” from health care.