A Case of Misplaced Priorities and Mistaken Judgment
America’s representative government is predicated on open and honest dealings, with public debate and freely flowing information keeping lawmakers accountable to their informed and educated constituents. Unfortunately, the much-discussed “comprehensive immigration reform” legislation, set to come before the Senate today for debate, is an example of what is currently wrong with the Washington establishment, rather than what is right, and is demonstrative both of our government’s penchant for secrecy and of its terribly misguided legislative priorities.<
First, some background. Early last week, the conservative weblog RedState.com broke the news that key Senators from both parties were cloistered in a dark back room, conspiring with the White House to draw up a hastily-agreed-to “comprehensive immigration reform” bill which would be sprung both on the Senate as a whole, and on the American populace, with little or no warning or time for debate before it cloture was sought early this week.
Less than 24 hours later, key provisions of the forthcoming Senate bill leaked to the public, including the so-called “Amnesty” portion which, through the issuance of “‘Z’ visas,” would allow “aliens, along with their dependents, …to legally remain in the United States under certain conditions for an indefinite period of time, even if they chose not to pursue the so called ‘pathway to citizenship’.”
Late Thursday afternoon, the bill was reportedly released to the Senate, and politicians, pundits, and candidates came out of the woodwork to issue statements about its contents, including former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson who, in a post on Red State, called on leaders in Washington to “scrap…the whole debate until we can convince the American people that we have secured the borders or at least have made great headway.”
The media – print, online, and television – were swarming throughout the weekend with commentary on the suddenly released immigration legislation, including speculation on what exactly it contained, and how long officials had been working toward the compromise which it apparently represented. However, amidst the debate and the rush to support or condemn specific provisions of the bill (or the bill as a whole), one aspect of this issue was entirely overlooked: at the time, there was still no actual immigration bill.
Multiple Senate sources confirmed that, despite statements from those involved in crafting the legislation, “no bill presently [existed]” at the time because “the lawyers [were] still behind closed doors putting it together.” Senate sources also confirmed that “the bill probably will not be online [and available to the public] in its final form until after the Senate has voted on it.
Furthermore, even Senators involved in the process itself offered contradictory reports on its contents. For example, at the same time on Thursday night that John Kyl (R-AZ) was on one news channel praising the bill’s elimination of chain migration – a key provision he himself had championed – Reid was telling another network that that provision would not be in the bill’s final draft.
Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), speaking Saturday morning at his home state’s Republican Party Convention, confirmed that as of that time he still had not received a copy of the completed immigration bill. This fact, though, did not keep him from praising the forthcoming legislation – an act which attracted a chorus of boos from representatives of his own party.
This brings us to the current situation. The proposal was finally completed and distributed on Saturday, giving legislators themselves just over one day to read and analyze the 326-page bill before it comes to the floor for debate today. Though the Senate apparently had no plans to make the bill public before cloture was achieved and the legislation voted on, the conservative Heritage Foundation thwarted that plan, and did the public a great service by acquiring a copy of the proposed legislation and immediately posting a draft of it online (.pdf file here).
Beyond the secrecy of its authoring – and its belated release – a source of further disquiet is the fact that the Senate Judiciary Committee is apparently being completely bypassed in this process, with the bill set to come to a final vote before the end of the week without ever having gone through the process of committee review, hearings, testimony, or fiscal analysis. Even more distressing is the story just now coming out of the last day of negotiations on this bill, which included a profanity-laced blowup by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), directed toward Senate colleague John Cornyn (R-TX). This apparently came about when, as the time approached for the prescheduled triumphant joint press conference announcing the bill – which was arguably the only reason that McCain made this session of negotiations at all, after having missed the previous two months of Senate business due to his Presidential campaign – the latter remained unwilling drop his request for inclusion in the bill of a provision streamlining deportation procedures, instead choosing to champion principle over concession and easy compromise. For his trouble, after working with those involved “in good faith” for three months, Cornyn was ordered by McCain to leave the negotiating room – and his provision was not included in the draft legislation.
Proceeding in such a hasty, guarded, and furiously impatient fashion at the very least reflects poorly on the intentions of those crafting it in such secrecy, as well as on the legislation itself, and such backroom dealings speak volumes more about the open, ethical nature of this Congress than has already been demonstrated to this point. Unfortunately, prominent members of both parties have all-too-willingly gone along with this process – as has the administration itself, which has long sought such “comprehensive” reform, as opposed to the border security- and- enforcement-first approach many concerned members of Congress and of the citizenry have favored.
Beyond these parliamentary concerns, though, is one issue of supreme importance: that of the war supplemental. Over one hundred days have now gone by with no supplemental funding for America’s troops who are currently in harm’s way and in growing need of supplies. Approving the funding which would provide much-needed materiel to our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines who are putting their lives on the line twenty-four hours a day, on orders from their government, is a far more important and more immediate issue than “comprehensive immigration reform,” and as such it should take priority. The fact that it does not speaks volumes about how seriously the key members of the “World’s Greatest Deliberative Body” actually take the war in which our military is currently engaged.
The provisions of this immigration agreement aside, the fact that so many statements were made when such an important piece of legislation had not even been written yet – as well as the fact that, even when completed, the bill was poised to be rushed through the Senate and only made available to the public after its passage – should sound alarm bells in the head of every citizen and lawmaker who prefers honest, open government to backroom dealings and votes on bills which have not even been read before they hit the floor for debate. This is a prime example of the latter, and the state of affairs it represents is, unfortunately, becoming a hallmark of the 110th Congress.
Is the secrecy in which the immigration bill has been cloaked – and in which it would continue to be, were it not for the Heritage Foundation’s efforts – a necessary component of this legislation? How can a government which purports to be a representative of its citizens operate in such secrecy when landmark issues like the security of our borders, and the status and future of twelve million of our residents, are the subject of debate?
Unfortunately, the fact that the administration, along with a number of Senate Republicans, is so deeply complicit in this affair paints a very distressing picture of where some key individuals’ priorities really lie. Regrettably, these priorities apparently do not include taking any steps beyond making political statements – in the form of bills containing certain dates for withdrawal from Iraq, which have arguably been designed to be vetoed – toward supplying the young men and women who are risking their lives day in and day out in the War on Terror. Likewise, these priorities are neither in tune with the American populace, nor with the spirit of our Republic, which demands open, honest, and accountable government – regardless of the subject of the legislation in question – in order to function as it should.
Regardless of whether or not this legislation is a significant move forward in the quest for “comprehensive immigration reform,” the manner in which it has been crafted, the tremendous effort which has been made to keep it from the public, and the sense of priority demonstrated by the rush to write and to pass it when we have troops in harm’s way who will soon suffer very real consequences from a lack of supplemental funding shows very clearly what is wrong with our government.
Those who are purportedly representing the nation’s interests in Washington should take note that this type of secrecy and backroom dealing will not be tolerated by the American people. If they do not get the message, then they have no business making the country’s decisions in the first place.
Jeff Emanuel is a Leadership Fellow with the University of Georgia's Center for International Trade and Security. He is also a director of conservative weblog RedState.com.
- At 1:39 PM, BillT said...
"The proposal was finally completed and distributed on Saturday, giving legislators themselves just over one day to read and analyze the 326-page bill before it comes to the floor for debate today."
How many hearings on this specific bill were held? How many times were "stakeholders" called to testify on specific provisions in it.
I've never seen secretly crafted legislation designed to modify domestic policy of a non-defense issue come out well.
- At 1:44 PM, Jeff Emanuel said...
That's simple - none. As the column mentioned:
"Beyond the secrecy of its authoring – and its belated release – a source of further disquiet is the fact that the Senate Judiciary Committee is apparently being completely bypassed in this process, with the bill set to come to a final vote before the end of the week without ever having gone through the process of committee review, hearings, testimony, or fiscal analysis."
I would agree with your last sentence wholeheartedly, and posit the question why it would possibly be necessary or advisable for such (supposedly) landmark and nation-changing legislation to be cloaked in such secrecy, and to be rushed through Congress so quickly.
- At 12:05 PM, John of Argghhh! said...
Jeff - since I can't find an email, I'll just leave it here and you can kill it when you come in to moderate, since it's so off-topic.
Re: Your column today for NRO - did you notice how most of your links were to bloggers... (and thanks for your link to Castle Argghhh!)?
That's part of our mission - especially the milbloggers.