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September, 19th 2009

Holdover from yesterday

– Liz Mair

This item from the Washington Times yesterday set conservatives abuzz with its hot headline, "Obama: Legalize illegals to get them health care."  Ah, the quick and simple way to fire up the opposition... say, on the record, that "If anything, this debate underscores the necessity of passing comprehensive immigration reform and resolving the issue of 12 million undocumented people living and working in this country once and for all." Stupid, stupid, and for so many reasons, it turns out.

I'm not in the "illegal immigration hardliner" camp, for the record, but I do find it noteworthy that Obama's name has now definitively and fairly been tied to a pet concern of the right and (it pains me to say) not a few liberals and conservative and moderate Democrats, especially those from big manufacturing states where concerns about job-attrition and the impact of an influx of lower-wage earners have run high for some time: The presence of 12 million illegal immigrants in this country and plans that some (including John McCain) have in the past put forward to offer them a pathway to citizenship.  This seems to be what Obama was committing himself to, something that illegal immigration foes describe as amnesty, and see as rewarding the breaking of the law.  Some want no pathway to citizenship to be made available but could accept the implementation of a guest-worker program.  Others (on the more extreme end) want all 12 million deported immediately and a wall to be erected along the Mexico-US border.  All dislike the idea of comprehensive anything on the issue, and tend to see it as code for something objectionable.  The GOP has spoken out more strongly on the subject of illegal immigration in a way that reflects these folks' views, though ironically, it's hardly just the GOP that killed comprehensive immigration reform, to which illegal immigration foes obviously object: In fact, Obama himself did, and this is what I'm getting at with the "stupid, stupid, for so many reasons" comment above.  By voting for, among others, two amendments to sunset the Y-1 nonimmigrant visa program after a 5-year period and one to reduce to 200,000 the number of certain non-immigrants permitted to be admitted during a fiscal year, Obama pretty much has already demonstrated that he could give a rat's you-know-what about passing comprehensive reform.  Otherwise, he would have done things in the Senate aimed at, you know, something other than killing it.

If you guess that this is one of a number of areas of Obama's voting record as a Senator with which I had issue, you guessed right.  It frankly leads me to be highly incredulous of his commitment to achieving immigration reform that I could get comfortable with, though I'll grant that Obama has demonstrated a willingness to talk about the importance of achieving immigration reform when speaking to Hispanic groups, and it should shock no one that he made the comments the Washington Times piece seizes upon when talking to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute.  It should also shock no one, frankly, that he'll pay what looks decidedly like lip service to the issue of immigration when speaking out in an effort to rally support for Democratic health care reform, support for which is flagging and which is becoming a major headache for the administration.  Obama's got to do everything he can to curry favor in order to pass that because frankly, the longer the debate over it runs on the more obvious it is becoming that the Democratic Party is having a hard time finding its car keys and the more that it opens itself up to criticisms of ineffectiveness. 

Such criticism emanates both from Republicans, who as the very-much-in-the-minority party have literally nothing to do with whether health insurance reform passes or not, and from the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, which is incensed that Democrats are ditching the public option to try to curry favor with Republicans for a plan that is frankly still so objectionable without it on conservative and libertarian philosophical grounds that Olympia Snowe is literally the only Republican whose vote is even arguably on the table.  The fact that it comes from both makes it all the more credible and biting... meanwhile, ordinary Americans are getting more and more pissed off that the "change agent" doesn't seem capable of getting it together to "change" much of anything, even if they disagree as to how it should be accomplished.

Those buying what Obama may be selling in terms of a commitment to doing something on immigration should be watching all this closely, and not just taking his word for it when he makes comments like this to Hispanic groups.  Ultimately, if health insurance reform is tough, immigration will be, too, and there's little sign Obama has any real intention of moving on the latter any time soon, nice words aside.  If and when he does, as someone who treats immigration as pretty important and basically falls into the McCain camp on the issue, I'd bank on it being a bill that will disappoint (and of course, I would not support it being pursued as a way to get people into a Democratic health care scheme along the current lines-- reform should be pursued because it's needed, not in order to involve more people into Obama's grand health care experiment).  Votes for poison pill amendments are a giveaway as to one's true intentions, and while I consider it noteworthy that Obama's willing to hint at a quid-pro-quo on immigration to get better support for Democratic health insurance reform, that's all this is.  Oh, and an indicator as to the trouble he's already gotten himself into in 9 months. [intro]

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