Saturday, May 25, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Whenever the world of Washington seems hopeless, someone will point out that the Senate Judiciary Committee did a good job on immigration reform.
That’s it? Yeah, pretty much.
Immigration reform has been the 2013 bipartisan bright spot in the Senate, unless you were really moved by the day they voted to debate gun control before killing all the gun control plans. The committee members cheerfully plowed through 300-odd proposed amendments, while taking turns telling which country their great-grandfather came from. There was, of course, a lot of disagreement, although almost everybody seemed to enjoy slapping down ideas offered by Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama.
Mainstream Republicans have been super-energized to do immigration reform ever since the Hispanic vote went against them in the past election. Democracy does work. If somebody came up with a dramatic poll showing that all the people with diabetes, asthma and chronic back problems had voted against Mitt Romney, there would no longer be a problem getting funding for health care reform.
High points in the committee’s long slog toward passage included a proposal from Tea Party icon Mike Lee of Utah to exempt employers of “cooks, waiters, butlers, housekeepers, governesses, maids, valets, baby sitters, janitors, laundresses, furnacemen, caretakers, handymen, gardeners, footmen, grooms and chauffeurs of automobiles for family use” from checking to make sure their help had the proper legal status. It didn’t go anywhere, but if you happen to run into Lee, feel free to say, “The butler did it.”
The most painful low point in the committee’s deliberations came at the end, when the Democrats gave up on an amendment allowing same-sex spouses the same right as heterosexuals to apply for permanent resident status for their partners. It’s not every day when you hear a senator announce that he had decided to support a move that involved “rank discrimination.” But the Republicans who were needed to get an immigration bill through the Senate had made it supremely clear that if any hint of gay marriage entered the legislation, they were going to take their toys and go home.
Decide for yourself how you feel about this one, people. Stand up for equality or finally get a major bill through the Senate? Defend equality or cave in and hope that the Supreme Court bails you out when it rules on the Defense of Marriage Act next month?
It is, at minimum, a useful reminder of what lawmaking looked like back in the days when the two parties made deals and we complained that nobody was sticking to their principles. Back to the can-do days when senators routinely said things like Sen. Orrin Hatch’s explanation of his thinking on immigration: “I’m going to vote this bill out of committee because I’ve committed to do that.”
The bill, which would give millions of undocumented residents a path toward eventual citizenship, goes to the full Senate, where it actually looks as though it’s going to pass. Any further progress would require cooperation from the House of Representatives, the circle of hell where the damned are condemned to spend eternity voting to repeal the health care reform law.
Perhaps you missed the one last week. Let me summarize:
• “The Obamacare law must be ripped out by its roots!”
• “The 37th time! The 37th time!”
• “A malignant tumor that’s metastasizing on America’s liberty!”
• “We have spent over 56 hours on the floor debating repeal of the law of the land!”
The House Republican leadership would probably rather have been working on something else. But the newer members whined that they’d hardly had any opportunities to vote to repeal Obamacare at all.
“It sends a great statement back to our district,” said Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., whom many people enjoy quoting because they like saying Ted Yoho.
Also, it’s hard for the Republicans to agree among themselves about anything else. One influential conservative organization recently urged Speaker John Boehner to drop the whole legislation idea completely and just hold committee hearings about the IRS scandal and Benghazi forever.
“Recent events have rightly focused the nation’s attention squarely on the actions of the Obama administration,” argued Heritage Action for America. “It is incumbent upon the House of Representatives to conduct oversight hearings on those actions, but it would be imprudent to do anything that shifts the focus from the Obama administration to the ideological differences within the House Republican conference.”
We really hate it when they get imprudent.
Gail Collins is a columnist for The New York Times.