Normally when a political leader announces a big effort to push a bill through Congress, the requisite support has already been found or is close enough to it for a public-relations push. To fail after such an announcement makes the political leader look impotent, an outcome that when repeated enough usually results in a leadership change. Perhaps Harry Reid should start looking over his shoulder, because the push for the DREAM Act looks ready to go down to a massive and embarrassing defeat:
The DREAM Act — a priority of Democrats in both Congress and the White House — faces a difficult future in the lame duck.
Even as Democrats in both chambers prepare to consider the measure this week, Republicans and centrist Democrats are already lining up to shoot it down.
Instead of going with earlier and less expansive versions of the bill, Reid has floated five different versions in the lame duck, all of which involve granting amnesty and legal residency status. That is a no-go area even for sympathetic Republicans like Orrin Hatch and Kay Bailey Hutchison, who will both face challenges in the next election cycle from Tea Party activists anyway. They’re certainly not going to back these versions of the bill in a lame-duck session while Reid ignores the upcoming tax hikes and keeps punting on the FY2011 budget, not even Hatch, who co-sponsored an original version of the bill nine years ago.
But recalcitrant Republicans are hardly his biggest problem:
A number of centrist Democrats are also promising to fight the proposal. Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) voted against the measure three years ago and “is inclined to oppose the bill again,” spokesman John LaBombard wrote Friday in an e-mail.
Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), who voted in favor of the measure in 2007, says he won’t do the same this time around. His opposition, according to spokesman Jake Thompson, is twofold. First, the Senate should be focusing on jobs and the economy before it does anything else, Thompson said. And second, the provisions of the DREAM Act should be included as part of comprehensive immigration reform — an effort, he said, that shouldn’t proceed “until the borders have been secured.”
The bill does provide centrist Democrats an opportunity to oppose their leadership on immigration, which might be useful in 2012. Perhaps that might serve a long-term purpose for Reid, but there are two problems with that strategy as well. First, a failure after raising expectations will anger and alienate progressive Latinos who have demanded an amnesty-lite program, at least, from this administration. After two years of total Democratic control in Washington, they will not be terribly happy to have the only fruits of their efforts in creating it be a talking point for Tester, Nelson, and Mark Pryor in their re-election bids. Also, the sight of Democrats pressing forward on everything but jobs, taxes, and the budget will confirm and solidify the electorate’s judgment in the midterms and present a strong argument in 2012’s Senate races to oppose continued Democratic control of the upper chamber.
If anything, the lame-duck session has produced even stronger evidence that Congressional Democrats really need to rethink their leadership choices. Neither Reid nor Nancy Pelosi have bothered to address the real concerns of the American electorate, not for the two years prior to the midterms nor in the five weeks afterward. The DREAM Act farce is a wake-up call to voters.