The crucial Senate roll call last week reflected a bipartisan consensus that the bill was fraught with risk for anyone facing voters soon. Of the 33 senators who may run for reelection in 2008, 23 voted to kill the immigration bill.However, a few quibbles with this report:
That suggests that one legacy of the immigration imbroglio is a transformation of the issue from a shining opportunity for bipartisan cooperation into the new "third rail" of American politics — an issue that, like Social Security reform, politicians will flee as if their political lives are at stake.Except both the opposition to cloture last week and the support of cloture were bipartisan; cloture fell through partially because all the partisans of a single side didn't cooperate with each other (e.g. DeMint opposed Graham, and Dorgan opposed Kennedy). Also, there does seem to be significant support for piecemeal changes to immigration policy--mainly focusing on enforcement. Indeed, it seems from polls that, on the whole, Americans did not believe that this "grand bargain" would actually reduce "illegal immigration" (which many Americans do want a reduction of). The non-partisan CBO agreed with this public suspicion that this bill would not stop "illegal immigration." To some extent, then, the failure of this "grand bargain" may have, in part, been the result of a breakdown of public faith in immigration enforcement.
And that brings me to a second point:
Since President Reagan signed the landmark legislation, which legalized some 3 million undocumented immigrants, the media environment has been transformed by talk radio and a 24/7 cable news cycle that fuels emotions on the political extremes. An influx of illegal immigrants has altered the population across the nation, not just in a handful of border states. And the political system has become so polarized that lawmakers' compromise-building skills seem to have atrophied.I think another reason--beyond talk radio and the "24/7 cable news cycle"--why the "grand bargain" has had such a hard time so far is Reagan's 1986 "amnesty" itself. A number of lawmakers (e.g. Grassley) who were in favor of 1986's "immigration reform" have opposed the "grand bargain" because of the example of 1986: they say that the US got "legalization" and the promise of enforcement, but, over the next 20 years, the numbers of "illegal immigrants" at least quadrupled (from 3 mil. to at least 12 mil.). Congress and the public felt that, in 1986, the approach of enforcement + legalization had been untried; in 2007, neither Congress nor the public feel the same way.
In the wake of those changes, the Senate battle over immigration showed how hard it now is for Congress and the president to confront emotional issues when an incensed minority tries to derail the efforts.