There’s been a lot of talk about whether an immigration bill would have any hearings at all, nevermind whether lawmakers might actually have time to read the massive legislation before the hearing. It’s, of course, in the interests of those who like what they know about the bill to speed the process so those factions who don’t like it don’t have time to rally in opposition. Or, as in the case of a version of the health care bill, they don’t start finding and publicizing things like the infamous Cornhusker Kickback. It looks like common sense is prevailing at the moment:
A spokesman for Florida Sen. Marco Rubio says a hearing scheduled Wednesday in the Senate on the comprehensive immigration reform effort being pushed by the the Republican and seven other senators will be postponed until the end of the week.
“BREAKING: Lots of concern there wouldn’t be enough time to read bill before Wednesday’s Judiciary hearing, so hearing’s been moved to Friday,” Rubio spokesman Alex Conant wrote on Twitter.
A text of the massive bill, which was crafted without public scrutiny by a bipartisan group of senators popularly called the ”Gang of Eight,” has not yet been released. NBC News reported Monday that the Gang of Eight’s members are “racing to complete” the legislation and hope to present it formally on Tuesday.
Tuesday to Friday seems much more reasonable than an overnight deadline for reading this monster of a bill. There will be another hearing on the bill Monday. The delay comes thanks to critical news coverage and complaints from lawmakers about the tight turnaround.
Sen. Marco Rubio, who knows any Republican support for the bill will have to be earned through attempts at an open process, had been pushing for multiple hearings— a request flatly denied by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT). He backed off Monday:
On Monday, Leahy made a gesture to those critics, delaying a previously scheduled hearing from Wednesday to Friday, and scheduling one more for next Monday.
“Over the course of the next week, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold two hearings on a forthcoming, bipartisan proposal to reform the Nation’s broken immigration system,” Leahy said in a statement. “I look forward to reviewing the bill, holding prompt hearings on the legislation, and proceeding to debating and marking up legislation on this important issue.”
Supporters of the bill are trying to navigate tricky political waters that have drowned prior attempts to pass an immigration overhaul. Even debates over process have the potential to scuttle a deal.
My skepticism of this bill comes, less from its content, about which I’m ambivalent and uncertain, and more from my utter lack of confidence that Congress can manage or even understand complex systems that it’s been spending the last half a century making more and more complex. In light of that concern, one hearing is better than none and two is better than one, but I still have very little confidence that anyone understands the current system in full or can accomplish what would need to be done to make it simpler and fairer. Same goes for the tax system. The beauty of a federal government so large and complex is that the number of people who understand any given system has dwindled to two Congressional Research Service employees, three subject experts, and the handful of regulators and actors whose livelihoods rely on understanding it. That’s not to say that all legislators or staffers are ignorant of the laws they’re passing. Some of them work very hard to translate possible solutions into complex legalese and then explain it again to the public, but the idea that large bills can actually pass through Congress with those solutions intact seems more and more unlikely with every broken Obamacare promise and every negative consequence of its making. In the case of Obamacare, a bunch of legislators who didn’t fully understand the system or what it would take to implement their plans made a lot of promises, dropped a problem in all of our laps, congratulated themselves for doing something because the status quo wasn’t acceptable, and just continue to make the same promises as their Frankenstein falls apart before our eyes.
And, that’s what Sen. Marco Rubio is up against, even with Republicans who might not be hard-liners on the subject of immigration. Bill authors can promise all day long that certain obstacles will make the bill’s legalization process more onerous than going back to one’s home country to stay in line. But common sense suggests if people aren’t traveling back home when no legalization process is in place, why would they start when one is implemented? They can promise six ways from Sunday that border security and a border fence will come to be, but there is a perfectly obvious history of the federal government breaking that promise that makes people doubt. The fact that one of the triggers is a “commission” on border security is not inspiring of confidence if you know anything about commissions in Washington.
Rubio addressed some of those concerns in a conference call today, in which Erika Johnsen was a participant, and he included several assurances that the bill process would not be fast. He noted that the Senate has already agreed to two hearings, and he hopes for more. He described the negotiated “Gang of Eight” bill as a starting point, not a finished product to be rammed through, adding that he doesn’t think it will even be in committees and on the floor for weeks or months.
He said that his first priority is to be clear about what is in the bill and what isn’t, and that he doesn’t want to shield the bill from public input, but hopes the public will improve it. We will learn much more about the bill in the coming days, and I will listen to its authors’ descriptions and defenses of it. But as with Obamacare and Manchin-Toomey, I am not terribly keen on the idea that we have to pass something because we have to pass something, and the federal government’s dismal track record of making good on its promises will play into my evaluation. That’s where I need convincing more than of anyone’s good intentions or the fact that a problem currently exists. I concede both, but we should know by now, they aren’t enough to make a plan work. Actual deliberation will help, though, and I appreciate Rubio’s attempts to make it happen.