Don't hold your breath on Congress passing a comprehensive immigration bill any time soon—Congress just isn't capable right now of tackling anything of that scope, according to House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy.
McCarthy, a lawmaker from California, was speaking to reporters at the regular press breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. Asked about the chances of Congress passing an immigration bill, he immediately said that anything passed would require bipartisan support and allowed that the issue "is a big challenge for both parties and a big challenge for the nation as a whole."
But then he took a rhetorical step back. "If you take that issue away and you look at Congress as a whole, I'm not sure that Congress regardless of the issue can take big massive bills because I don't believe ... the American people like big massive bills," he said.
Sure, blame the American people, even though polls show that they actually do favor comprehensive immigration reform. A more accurate assessment would be that a vocal minority, which happens to have enormous influence within the Republican Party, becomes apoplectic at the notion of a big massive immigration bill (or more specifically one that acknowledges the reality that you can't deport everyone in the country illegally).
But it's a fairly breathtaking acknowledgement from someone in congressional leadership, that the Congress simply can't tackle big problems these days. This isn't to say that every problem requires more than a nibbling, piecemeal solution ... but certainly there are some that do and our political leadership ought to be able to do something more than throw their hands up and say it's too much.
And even to the extent that he's right that voters are leery of big legislation, that's no excuse. This is a case where instead of using demagoguery (how many times did we hear about the number of pages in the healthcare bill), political leaders should educate. As a very practical matter some issues require comprehensive solutions simply because the issue is so contentious that each side has to get something and each side has to give something. See: tax reform, deficit reduction, and, oh yeah, immigration. Some issues just can't be done piecemeal.
The general contours of a comprehensive immigration reform aren't hard to imagine (mostly because they were proposed on a bipartisan basis as recently as 2007): Do something to strengthen border security while also figuring out what to do about the 11.5 million undocumented aliens in the country, including presumably, a path to legality for some significant number of them.
McCarthy said: "If I look at the structure of what has gone through the House in the [recent past], big comprehensive bills die." He noted President George W. Bush's failed attempt to pass a comprehensive immigration reform. "I'd rather learn from somebody else's mistake because I don't have enough time in life to make all my mistakes and learn from them. So my past experience, what I've studied within Congress, these big comprehensive bills die."
His study of history might not be comprehensive: As recently as 1986 and 1990, Congress passed comprehensive immigration bills.
And again, the fact that Congress hasn't managed to tackle this problem has less to do with voter antipathy toward big solutions but more to do with partisan recalcitrance among immigration opponents. And a pathetic, "We can't do big things" attitude on the part of leadership.