This Bargain Wouldn't Sell
Everyone found something to dislike about the 'grand compromise' on immigration, so the deal collapsed and a dysfunctional status quo endures
'Grand compromise" isn't quite an oxymoron, but the prospective immigration deal struck between Democratic and Republican senators certainly led to some bizarre political theater at a press conference last week. Senators, labor leaders, and Hispanic organizers took the podium in turn, all agreeing, essentially, that a major selling point of the bill was that it was equally unsatisfying to everyone, and could be fixed later.
"We feel quite confident that we are going to have a realistic chance to improve the legislation," said Frank Sharry, head of the National Immigration Forum. "Even if what leaves the Senate is something of an ugly duckling."
But no swan was forthcoming. Buffeted by potentially fatal amendments from both sides, the Senate's compromise immigration bill was pulled by Majority Leader Harry Reid after he twice failed to gain the 60 votes needed to close debate. Supporters pledge that the bill is only, in the words of Republican Sen. Arlen Specter, "on life support," not dead, but agreement between and even within the parties on immigration remains elusive. Experts say Congress has likely lost its last chance to attempt serious immigration reform until 2009, and is stuck with a system that all sides agree is riddled with flaws.
The bargain-brokered by about a dozen senators of both parties and announced with great fanfare in mid-May-would have allowed illegal immigrants in the country before 2007 to receive renewable four-year visas after paying fees and fines, and eventually get on a path to citizenship. It created a guest worker program that would have given two-year visas to 400,000 workers a year, though the bill was amended to halve that number. None of those programs would have gone into effect until certain triggersincluding the hiring of additional border agents and the construction of hundreds of miles of border fencingwere met.
Teetering. Proposed amendments left the fragile compromise teetering on the edge of failure most of the week, but it was a late-night addition to the bill by North Dakota Democratic Sen. Byron Dorgan to end the guest worker program after five years that brought the compromise to the breaking point. Dorgan said he felt the guest worker program was "part of a strategy to put downward pressure on American wages."
Though the Democrats have mostly avoided the nasty public schisms of their colleagues across the aisle, Dorgan's economic nationalism is only one of many discordant strains within the party. Even traditionally allied groups found themselves on opposite sides. The National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic group, backed the bill, while the League of United Latin American Citizens opposed it. The union UNITE HERE was at odds with the AFL-CIO.
Democratic leaders blamed the failure of the cloture motion to end debate on Republicans, who supplied only seven aye votes and showed little loyalty to the White House. But 11 of the votes against ending debate came from Democrats, including Dorgan. And both parties' fissures turned what seemed to be a slam dunka bill backed by the Republican president, the Democratic majority in the Senate, and a number of Republican senatorsinto a fiasco.