In the act of passing massive and historic health care legislation (America’s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009, as reconciled by the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010), U.S. senators, in Congress assembled, took time, appropriately, to honor in silence one of universal health care’s fallen champions, Ted Kennedy.
The prior weekend, while the House voted on health care, outside the Capitol tens of thousands of marchers urged Congress to honor Sen. Kennedy’s memory by passing his other passion, comprehensive reform of our immigration laws.
The effort to reach consensus on how to fix immigration will be a tortuous slog. A new HBO film — The Senators’ Bargain — tells the inside story of the last unsuccessful immigration reform effort by Sen. Kennedy. Three reviews (by New York Times movie reviewer Allesandra Stanley, NYT immigration reporter, Julia Preston, and Christine Kearney of Reuters) and the film’s trailer are all worth partaking, but nothing can replace a viewing of this TV movie with its moment-by-moment depiction of sausage-making gone rancid.
The Senators’ Bargain reveals the faustian pact supporters of reform reluctantly made to gain legal status for the millions of undocumented in America by swallowing hard on a point system that tilted in favor of high-skilled workers over family-unity immigrants. Ultimately, the “grand bargain” of Sen. Kennedy and his Republican co-sponsor, Sen. Kyl, failed. Senators who were not party to the bargain proposed a slew of amendments to defeat or dilute the bill, and the grand bargainers could not tease out the support of enough senators to bring the bill to final vote.
The film also shows Sen. Kennedy personally addressing far more numerous marchers on Washington seeking immigration reform. Tellingly, this time, however, the latest marchers viewed Pres. Obama on video screens. This time as well erstwhile immigration supporters such as Sen. John McCain — who previously paired with Sen. Kennedy on yet another failed immigration reform effort — have already predicted that the Democrats’ use of reconciliation and other parliamentary maneuvers have poisoned the well for future bipartisanship. For his part, President Obama proclaims his unwavering commitment to keep his campaign promise to pass immigration reforms, but says the effort will not move forward without Republicans pushing together with Democrats. No Republicans to date have stepped forward, other than Sen. Lindsey Graham, who likewise predicted that use of reconciliation to pass health care would scotch any chance for bipartisan immigration reform.
With reform at a standstill for now, administrative fixes and Presidential executive orders are the sole game in town, but only if the President and his Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano, are willing to play. Gary Endelman and Cyrus Mehta point the way to a partial fix in their virtuoso article, “The Tyranny of Priority Dates.” In the present era of post-post-partisanship, President Obama should recognize that more can be done with immigration reform and it won’t take 22 pens, just one.