Irresponsible behavior on immigration reform

President Trump was hoping to mark his first anniversary in office at his Mar-a-Largo estate in Florida, but then the federal government shut down for 69 hours. The high-stakes game of chicken that began Jan. 20 ended when Democrats and Republicans in the Senate reluctantly came to an agreement that will keep the federal government paying its bills until Feb. 8.

Unable to pass a federal budget for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, Congress has repeatedly resorted to these “continuing resolutions.”

The latest stalemate ended when Senate Democrats woke up, smelled the coffee, and relented on their demand for immigration reform in return for assurances from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that the Senate will consider immigration proposals in the coming weeks and take up the plight of Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals recipients, often referred to as “Dreamers.”

Poll after poll has shown that most Americans want the Dreamers, who were brought to the United States illegally as children, protected. But a recent CNN poll also showed that when given a choice between keeping the federal government open and passing DACA legislation, most said they don’t want the government to shut down.

Americans understand that attracting hard-working legal immigrants has been an important reason for the nation’s prosperity. They also understand that promised entitlements like Social Security won’t be around in a few decades unless we have more workers paying into them.

President Obama introduced DACA in 2012 as a stopgap measure to avoid deportations. President Trump rescinded Obama’s executive order creating the program last September, but delayed implementation until March 2018 to give Congress the opportunity to develop a replacement. As a practical matter, Dreamers are not in immediate danger of being deported because any action would trigger legal challenges.

While the media was salivating over the prospect of an extended federal shutdown, this three-day version was uneventful. Unlike the 21-day instance in 1995-1996 and the 16-day shutdown in 2013, the fight was not over raising the federal debt ceiling or health care policy. Instead, it was about Senate Democrats trying to pressure their Republican counterparts to ensure that about 800,000 immigrants, mostly from Mexico, who came to the United States as children could remain.

Before you know it, Feb. 8 will be upon us. There is no end to the suspense.

All this political posturing and blame-gaming is about one part of a much larger immigration issue and the President’s insistence on building a wall on our southern border.

Moreover, both parties dance around an unspoken yet reasonable question: Once DACA recipients are addressed, how long before pressure mounts to accommodate the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, which was designed to defer deportation for about five million parents of children born in the United States and also of children brought to the country legally?

“Deferred action” is Washington speak which in plain English means ignoring the law.

The evidence with entitlements suggests that each extension of benefits establishes a new base for future expansion. As time passes, more groups of undocumented immigrants come forth claiming they are no less deserving and political pressure is brought on their behalf to again expand protection. The process repeats itself until a program’s original intention is virtually unrecognizable.

Immigration issues have defied compromise for decades. Americans have a wide range of opinions on the subject, many of which don’t add up to a coherent point of view. These conflicted emotions have blocked comprehensive immigration legislation and skirted the issue of enforcing existing laws.

Not to be overlooked is the political imperative to be reelected, which incentivizes politicians to follow Scarlett O’Hara’s approach from “Gone with the Wind”: “After all, tomorrow is another day.” Given that we elect politicians, the lack of a well-conceived immigration policy is the price the electorate must pay for their irresponsible behavior.

Originally Published: Feb 3, 2018


Middle-class America holds no influence over Congress  

The rest of the world watched the latest game of chicken over the U.S. government shutdown, which stretched on for more than two weeks and threatened to result in financial default, all of which again raised the question of whether the world’s leading power has lost the capacity to govern itself. Congress has not passed a proper budget since 2009.

The first government shutdown in 17 years ended when the Senate and the House of Representatives reached another 11th hour deal to avoid a financial default and get the government running again late on the evening of Oct. 16. The president signed the legislation early the next day. The bill approved funding the government until Jan. 15, 2014 and suspended the nation’s borrowing limit of $16.7 trillion until Feb. 7.

Of course, Congress could not resist larding the legislation with pork. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who was instrumental in ending the crisis, got $2.9 billion for a dam in his home state of Kentucky. Congress also awarded the widow of the late New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg $174,000, the equivalent of one year’s salary. In 2012, the Capitol Hill publication Roll Call named Lautenberg one of the 50 richest members of Congress with a net worth of about $56.8 million.

The threat of a government default is off the table for now. But instead of resolving underlying disputes, the short-term deal only pushed the hard choices off to another day. It gives the parties some time to  cool off and negotiate a broader spending plan.

Brace yourself for another cliffhanger that resembles a bad daytime soap opera. America will continue its habit of governing by crisis after crisis after crisis. In this troubled political environment, is it any wonder that businesses are sitting on their cash rather than investing in new factories, equipment, and more workers?

As part of the recent deal, the House and Senate will appoint members to a bipartisan group tasked with hammering out an agreement by Dec. 13 on a blueprint for tax and spending policies over the next decade, that may include tax increases and structural reforms to entitlement programs such as Medicare something the two parties have not agreed on in years.

Given the recent track record, the chance that this new forum can deliver by its deadline, in time for Congress to act by Jan. 15, on funding to keep the government open, is slim to none.

Can the U.S. recover its tarnished image? Is the recent dysfunction in Washington now behind us, or is it destined to become part of the permanent bleak political landscape?

Conventional wisdom holds that the deal made in Washington guarantees another shutdown and debt ceiling fight early next year. In other words, Americans will soon be witnessing another psychodrama being played out with politicians again acting badly, more divided than ever, and pulled apart by two different conceptions of government.

If you believe the political roosters on Capitol Hill can be counted on to stop squawking, bridge the gap between competing visions of the role of government and reach agreement on critical problems ranging from employment to energy to entitlements to education, then you have every confidence in the full faith and credit of the U.S. government.

The average hard-working, middle-class family is coming to recognize that they don’t have a shred of influence and that our leaders in Washington seem to care only about those who write the checks that allow them to stay in power. Nobody wants to have to say it, but Americans need to read it to begin to understand that campaign contributions are politicians’ favorite form of catnip.

originally published: November 2, 2013