Great news: Dems ready to push amnesty during lame duck session

Now or never.

‘READY’ ON IMMIGRATION: Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) told reporters on Monday that he might meet with President Obama this week to talk about a way to pass immigration legislation during Congress’s lame-duck session.

“The White House is ready and willing, and we may be having another meeting with the White House very soon this week,” Menendez said on a conference call, adding that Obama is “clearly interested” trying to reach a deal on immigration before the Congress convenes.

“He made it clear that he is willing to move forward if there is bipartisan support,” Menendez said. “We need some clear response from some of our Republican colleagues.”

“Immigration legislation” in this case could mean the DREAM Act, which is an amnesty limited to younger illegals (and which died in the Senate a few months ago when Reid tucked it into a defense appropriations bill) or it could mean the full shebang of comprehensive immigration reform. I can’t believe they’ll find the votes for the latter in the Senate, especially with so many red-state Democrats up for reelection in 2012. They’ve gotten close before on the DREAM Act, though: Seven Republicans still in the Senate voted for it back in 2007 but all of them voted to filibuster Reid’s defense bill, some on grounds that the Act should be given its own separate up-or-down vote. What happens if Reid tries that this time? Lugar, in particular, sounds like he might defect, but Mark Kirk signaled during an Illinois Senate debate a few weeks ago that he’d vote no. That leaves us at a precarious 41 no’s unless McConnell can convince Nelson or Manchin or Tester, etc, to join the GOP in blocking it.

Mickey Kaus wonders and worries:

I still shouldn’t worry, I’m told. You see, the lame duck Congress has so many huge bills to consider (extension of the Bush tax cuts, the revived estate tax, the alternative minimum tax, the huge pending cut in Medicare doctor reimbursements, etc.) that there won’t be any time for the little old DREAM Act. Some DREAM opponents have accepted this line of reasoning.

They may be right. But it seems to me the trainwreck of big legislative issues is another reason for DREAM opponents to worry. Why? Precisely because compared with the giant, headline;grabbing issues, DREAM looks like small potatoes. Suppose the Democrats fight furiously against a big item on the GOP wish list–say, extending the Bush tax cuts for those making more than $250,00–but suddenly let Republicans know that they will cave, and give their opponents a huge victory, if only the GOP agrees to slide this little immigration provision into the larger bill. Will Republicans have the fortitude to say “no”? Will the press pay attention to the DREAM “sweetener,” or focus only on the big set-piece tax battle?

Ominously plausible! And yet, I wonder if the GOP wouldn’t call the Democrats’ bluff on an offer like that, knowing that once the tax cuts lapse and the public outcry begins, Reid will be under heavy pressure to come back and cave to GOP demands for across-the-board cuts. What they should do now is spend the rest of the week getting ahead of the curve on Kaus’s point by publicly demanding that all lame-duck legislation be offered in standalone bills. They can sell it as a good-government measure, a sign that they’re changing the culture in D.C. by rejecting “sweeteners” and emphasizing clarity and accountability on each senator’s vote, etc. In this political climate, with tea partiers already eying people like Snowe and Hatch for primary challenges next cycle, it’d be awfully tough for any of them to risk a yes on DREAM in a standalone bill. But if Reid did it Kaus’s way — and remember, he’s tried it before — anything could happen.