Chalk One Up for the Moderates, and Now Comes the Bigger Challenge

Earlier this week, we got off the precipice of a no-win government shutdown thanks to the leadership of a bipartisan group of moderates in the Senate. The goal those who forced the shutdown were pursuing—to get a permanent solution for the “Dreamers” who are stuck in a legal limbo through no fault of their own—is one that I and nearly 9 out of 10 Americans wholeheartedly support.

But holding up funding for the government over other non-budget issues is always a losing strategy, even when it involves an issue as worthy as this one. The Democrats leading the charge this time learned the hard lesson that Republicans did when they tried this tactic a few years back, and I could never top the way David Brooks put it in his column earlier this week: Democrats Go for the Jugular! (Their Own).

The bottom line is no one was going to win in this shutdown scenario. The group of moderate Senators who brokered the deal to end it not only pulled us back from the brink, they got a key commitment on the “dreamer” issue: there will be a vote in the Senate before the longer-term funding bill is taken up on February 8th.

What should happen here is just a clean vote on the DREAM Act, a bipartisan bill that would solve the problem at hand in a fair and effective way. Unfortunately, the Republican leaders in Congress and the President have nixed that idea, insisting that increased “immigration enforcement” needs to be part of any deal. Since they are still the ones holding the power, now comes the bigger challenge for the moderates: finding a reasonable compromise that can attract enough bipartisan support to pass.

By most accounts, there is a path here that could attract enough votes to pass in Congress without holding the Dreamers hostage over unrelated changes in broader immigration policy. That path involves pairing the DREAM Act provisions with increased border enforcement funding (including at least some funding for a modified version of the President’s cherished border wall), saving debate on other unrelated policy changes for a broader discussion on comprehensive immigration reform.

There is a reason so many in the anti-immigrant wing of Congress and inside the Administration have been so afraid of a vote on that kind of compromise–they know it would pass. So now it’s up to those moderates in the Senate to see if they can craft that measure and keep enough supporters on board to pass it.

The “compromise” proposed this past week by the President is not the answer. His proposal ties a number of major immigration policy changes unrelated to enforcement that, unlike the DREAM Act, would not have sufficient support to pass on their own.

That is not meeting in the in middle, that is trying to use the urgency of action on a popular measure as hostage for unrelated agenda items. Kind of like what just happened in the aborted budget shutdown effort. Those other policy proposals from the President should be debated later as part of a larger comprehensive reform discussion.

For now, if the moderates can hold their ground on a truly bipartisan proposal and it actually gets a vote, there is hope yet we can finally resolve this issue. If not, those who oppose that solution and/or vote against it will have to wear the collar for it. Whatever happens though, shutting down the government again is not the solution.

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