Immigration Reform’s Last Best Chance
Greg Sargent has been more bullish than most when it comes to comprehensive immigration reform’s (CIR) chances in the House. But when I read this report from him on how reformers plan to nudge the GOP caucus towards ignoring the Hastert Rule and allowing reform to come up for a vote, I’m less than encouraged. As Sargent reports:
It continues to be widely accepted that there is no chance comprehensive immigration reform could ever get through the House. But proponents of reform are not prepared to give up. And they are putting together a plan designed to win over individual House Republicans — one by one — by mobilizing constituencies within their districts to make an economic and moral case that reform is necessary not just to solve the immigration problem, but for the good of the economy and the country….
The idea is to identify major businesses — farmers, growers, tech companies — in the districts of individual Republicans and get them to make the case to their Members of Congress that immigration reform is necessary for the good of the local economy. In other words, the idea is to make this less about what major business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or big agricultural groups want and more about what their individual members want of their own Representatives. The notion that reform is being orchestrated by big business and “big ag” groups is a rallying cry against it for conservatives.
The plan seems to be founded the truism that all politics is local. And there’s no doubt still a lot to say in favor of that view. But when it comes to high-profile legislation like CIR, the kind of legislation intimately tied-up with the president’s legacy — something House Republicans are not inclined to burnish — I’m far from sure that local political pressure is enough to overcome the national activist base’s agenda. I mean, it’s all well and good for Anytown, USA’s local business leaders to urge reform; but that pales in comparison to the threat of being called out by Rush Limbaugh or Mark Levin.
The other problem with the plan is that it assumes Republicans in the House care enough about governing to accept ideologically inconvenient solutions. For example:
What unifies the message that will be pushed through these channels is the idea that immigration reform is not just a means to fixing a broken system that has left millions in the shadows; it’s also necessary to improve the economy at the local and national level. As such, the case will be made that only comprehensive reform will do, for the sake of all the different groups that would benefit from it, and for the sake of the economy overall.
After more than two years living under this Tea Party Congress, I think we can assume that unless it can be done through orthodox conservative means — chiefly, cutting spending on the poor and lowering taxes on the wealthy — Republicans are uninterested in improving the economy. Their faith in their own prescriptions is too ironclad to allow any other approach. Technocratic appeals simply won’t work.
Simply put, nothing in Sargent’s report leads me to believe that the basic legislative dynamic of the past few years has changed. So long as the president is in favor of something, House Republicans will oppose it. And if that something happens to be strongly opposed by the most hardcore members of the GOP activist base, the chances for cooperation shrink from minuscule to infinitesimally small.
And while I hope I’m wrong, I believe all the clever Congressional micro-targeting in the world won’t change that fact.