Published May 06, 2013
“Unfortunately you've grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that's the root of all our problems, even as they do their best to gum up the works; or that tyranny always lurks just around the corner. You should reject these voices.”
-- President Obama addressing graduates at The Ohio State University.
A high-pressure vote on generally popular legislation that arouses deep passions among ideological activists and is doomed to failure in the House: Not a recipe for success in the U.S. Senate.
But that’s where we’re headed this week as the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” gets ready to roll out the full version of their compromise immigration package, now almost six months in the making.
Call it the “jam and slam.” First, jam the legislation through the Democrat-controlled Senate and then Slam House Republicans for resisting progress. But if you can’t jam, you sure can’t slam.
America saw the result last month on a gun-control package backed by President Obama as ideology and political pragmatism teamed up to squelch the president’s second big policy push of his second term. Like they did on blocking the automatic reductions to increases in federal spending, Senate Democrats declined to fight for the president’s agenda when faced with their own political mortality.
One might think that the approach would have fallen out of favor, but here we go again.
If ever the approach was going to work, it would be on this subject. Americans generally support broad immigration reforms at the heart of the deal in which legalization for existing illegal immigrants is married with safeguards against new border jumpers. And Republican resistance to the idea of legalization is at a low ebb as the party faces demographic oblivion without the ability to attract non-white voters.
Obama has established this legislation as a one-shot deal for Republicans. Either this comprehensive legislation will pass, or he will unveil his own, more-liberal bill, effectively ending any chance for compromise. The president says either Republicans will assent to this compromise or he will rally Hispanics and liberals around the banner of a more permissive, faster legalization and make sure Americans know it’s Republicans who are to blame. It’s now or never, says Obama.
Many Republicans, led by Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, are working to slow things down. Rubio, one of the eight, is proposing the legislation as a starting point for a deliberative Senate process resulting in final passage of a comprehensive bill that then would be merged with a version from House Republicans, setting off a final round of negotiations.
The Democrats in the gang are looking for the more traditional (of late) approach to the legislation. This style brews up a bill behind closed doors and then offers it to the rest of the Senate like plea bargain to a criminal defendant on “Law and Order”: take it or leave it.
What we’re seeing is the biggest collision yet between the old school of the Senate and the reform movement born with Obama’s 2010 health law. Conservative Republicans took offense at the means of passing what the president calls “Obamacare” almost as much as they dislike the ends.
And “read the bill” still stands as one of the best rallying cries for the Tea Party movement. While Americans may disagree about how much to tax, how much to spend and how big the magazine on your rifle should be, it’s very hard to make a principled case against thoroughness and deliberation when it comes to major legislation.
Obama, who shows increasing impatience with divided government, is strongly backing the Jack McCoy approach here. Either the Senate will swiftly pass the compromise bill, or he is going to send the GOP up the river with Hispanic voters.
This is logical since following “regular order” on this legislation would help conservatives sink or shrink the legislation, with the most likely outcome being a lengthy battle that stretches into an election year. If that happens, Obama either gets no bill or a much-reduced version.
And for Obama to make “jam and slam” work on immigration, he needs to get it done before the Senate has to take up the issue of a full-year federal budget. Once that starts, with all the talk about entitlements, taxes, etc. there’s not going to be room or appetite enough for anything else comprehensive and complicated.
So can the Senate be done with immigration by July? If so, Obama has a chance to increase the pressure on House Republicans and get off the lame-duck pond. If his fellow Democrats in the Senate, though, can’t take care of the “jam” part of the strategy, Obama will have a tougher time on the budget and everything else that’s still left on his second-term wish list.
Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com. Catch Chris Live online daily at 11:30amET at http:live.foxnews.com.