National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America

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Can Washington Govern?

February 25, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Broken branch

A question on the minds of many these days is, "Can Washington govern?"

That question has been the subject of much comment in the last week since the surprise announcement by Indiana Senator Evan Bayh, thought to have excellent re-election prospects, that he would not run for re-election. 

Bayh explained his reasoning in an op-ed for the New York Times on February 20.  In his piece, Bayh lists a series of ills causing the dysfunction in Congress that led to his decision.

…strident partisanship, unyielding ideology, a corrosive system of campaign financing, gerrymandering of House districts, endless filibusters, holds on executive appointees in the Senate, dwindling social interaction between senators of opposing parties and a caucus system that promotes party unity at the expense of bipartisan consensus.

Certainly, advocates for policy reform on a range of issues that face the nation today are wondering whether our political system can respond to the challenges.  Rather than working to solve the nation's problems, too many lawmakers now seem to be working to prevent solutions from moving forward.

Douglas Rivlin, on News Junkie Post, proposes a test for lawmakers who always seem to say (in front of the TV Cameras, at least) that they want to work with the other side.  That test is immigration reform.

Four years ago, the Senate passed an immigration reform bill with 38 Democrats and 24 Republicans.  Not all of those Senators are still in office.  Is bipartisanship still possible?

In the past year, we have seen the rise of the "teaparty" movement.  Republicans have felt obligated to curry favor with this segment of its base.  With its strong nativist streak, the tea party effect on the immigration issue has been to make Republican support more uncertain.  For example, John McCain had been not just a supporter, but a champion of immigration reform.  In the past couple of years, he has distanced himself from the issue.  As to whether he still would vote for reform, as Rivlin notes, "with a tough [re-election] challenge from immigration hawk JD Hayworth, it is hard to tell."

As for the Democrats, all the noise coming from this small but vocal constituency seems to have made them reluctant to step out and advance solutions.  A proposed solution to a problem will inevitably become a target for political opponents.  On the other hand, the election is coming up, and I would hate to have the job of trying to motivate voters to leave their houses and vote for someone who has not made an honest effort to solve the immigration crisis (or any of a number of other problems voters expected lawmakers to work on.)

Republicans and Democrats who step up and support comprehensive immigration reform might find that they will be backed up as never before.  The Reform Immigration FOR America Campaign has been channeling the energy of faith-based organizations, business groups, labor unions, progressives, law enforcement organizations, immigrants, immigrant advocates, and ordinary citizens who see the suffering caused by our broken immigration system. 

On March 21, thousands of these citizens will be coming to Washington to ask Members of Congress: Can you still govern? 

The answer to that question may determine whether millions of people have a reason to go to a voting booth in November.

Image by Flickr user brownpau.

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