Clarence Fanto: In Congress: No way in, no ways out
Here's a prediction that may be hard to swallow but is increasingly obvious:
Nothing of any significance will be accomplished in Washington, at least until the November 2014 mid-term election, if then. Nothing.
That means no gun safety legislation. No accord on a budget plan to begin dealing with the nation's red ink. No agreement to ensure that the Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid safety nets remain secure for future generations.
And, perhaps most surprisingly, no deal on immigration reform, even though momentum is building in the Senate for a bill creating a long and winding path to citizenship for the nation's estimated 11 million undocumented residents.
Here's the tip-off: House Republicans, dominated by far-right tea party types, cannot be herded by their leadership to support any meaningful legislation, not even a five-year farm bill that went down to a surprise 234-195 defeat on Thursday when 62 House conservatives staged a revolt and voted no, saying it would be too costly. Many Democrats bailed on the bill at the last minute as Republicans insisted on including a damaging $20 billion cut to the food-stamp program.
Amid much gnashing of teeth, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat, described the scene as "amateur hour."
Rep. Steven Israel, a New York Democrat, complained that the Republicans "turned what should have been a noncontroversial farm bill into a partisan mess. I cannot imagine what they will manage to do with a controversial immigration bill."
The failure of the bill not only hurts farmers but is likely to cause hefty price hikes on milk and other dairy products.
As for the immigration bill, the Senate may well approve it within several weeks now that it is stuffed with $30 billion in stepped up U.S.-Mexico border security, including a doubling of federal agents, completion of a 700-mile fence, and increased surveillance by radar and, yes, drones.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, a profile in cowardice on Capitol Hill, has warned that "regardless of what the Senate does, the House is going to work its will." Boehner, fearful of losing his speakership if he doesn't kowtow to his most conservative colleagues, will not push for immigration reform even if it passes the Senate by a healthy margin reflecting support from both parties.
There's no rational reason why the Senate proposal, with its amped-up border security, shouldn't become the law of the land. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that the bill would reduce deficits by nearly $200 billion over 10 years. Republicans should embrace it for crass political motives, since immigration reform might give the party a chance with Hispanic voters and other immigrants. Even conservative media guru Bill O'Reilly is supporting it.
Most important, by far, it's the right thing to do, enabling many hard-working immigrants and their families to become citizens after a challenging, cumbersome process that acknowledges the unlawful route they took to arrive here and is far from anything resembling amnesty.
But Washington insiders warn that the hard-right views of many House Republicans could torpedo the bill even if it gets a dramatic 70 or more votes out of 100 in the Senate.
Speaker Boehner is on record as refusing to open the legislation to debate unless it is already backed by a majority of House Republicans, a pre-condition that amounts to sabotage. And too many House Republicans, fearful of primary challenges next year from ultra-conservative candidates, put political survival ahead of governing.
President Obama could once again try to rally support for immigration reform. But those House Republicans who have no use for minorities and immigrants harbor utter contempt for the president.
It's your basic lose-lose proposition. Even John McCain seems repulsed by the House GOP opposition to a heavily compromised piece of legislation. It's hard to avoid feeling hopeless when cautious optimism seems to be nothing but a mirage.
Clarence Fanto is an Eagle contributor. He can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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