Thursday, May 24, 2007

Gang warfare in the United States Senate

Just off the Senate floor, a dozen Democratic and Republican senators huddle twice a day to decide whether proposed changes to a bipartisan immigration compromise are acceptable tweaks or fatal blows to their fragile agreement.
Survival of the deal that would allow 12 million unlawful immigrants to stay in the U.S. legally - regarded as the best chance to overhaul immigration this year - depends in large part on how effective this "Gang of 12" is in insulating the plan from major changes.
-- Associated Press, May 24

Observe how the Senate immigration bill -- potentially the most important piece of legislation that will be proposed in your lifetime, with almost limitless effects on the size and composition of the United States -- is being decided on. It tells you something about the strategy for getting the bill passed.

It is in the hands of 12 out of 50 U.S. Senators. Not in a regular committee meeting, with testimony from witnesses, visibility to the public, and a time frame protracted enough so that the lawmakers can ponder the bill and, if they are so moved, reconsider their positions. No, this is simply a group of power brokers playing a game among themselves.
They sit in overstuffed crimson leather chairs; Senate aides and senior White House officials look on. The team pores over lists of proposed amendments from both parties. Some are deemed acceptable, while others are deal-breakers that must be killed or modified to avoid alienating a key bloc. "There is a real commitment to absolutely do our best to see that the agreement is not unraveled," Kyl said. "We're trying to avoid killing the deal."
So, let's put this in plain English. Because there is widespread disagreement over the bill among their colleagues (not to mention the public), a handful of Senators, behaving like medieval royalty working out a treaty among their kingdoms, work unceasingly to make sure that it's a done deal before the final vote is taken. All the possible amendments must be accepted or rejected by this oligarchy.

If this bill, in the AP's words, "unites conservatives and liberals who regard enactment of an immigration measure this year as an imperative that can deliver political benefits and long-standing policy objectives to their respective parties" (slyly worded to imply that amnesty is in everyone's best interest), why is the Senate behaving like the Soviet Politburo rather than a deliberative body?

It's symbolic of how this unpopular and dangerous piece of legislation is being handled: keep it within a cabal as far as possible; insulate it from debate and amendment; get it through before the pressure to kill it builds to overwhelming proportions. Some "compromise." Some "solution."


Anonymous said...

Very good commentary. However, re

"It is in the hands of 12 out of 50 U.S. Senators"

Don't you mean 12 out of 100 senators?

Rick Darby said...

Anonymous, Yes, of course you are right. I was forgetting that every state has two senators.