Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
September 23, 2014

Posts in "Kondracke"

February 4, 2014

Go ‘Small’ on Immigration | Kondracke

Next to achieving Middle East peace, the hardest thing in the world seems to be passing a law to repair what everyone agrees is a “broken” immigration system. But there’s a chance, if Republicans and Democrats think not big but small.

The just-unveiled House Republican leadership document, “Standards for Immigration Reform” has part of a good idea — don’t even consider a “comprehensive” bill like the Senate’s bipartisan monstrosity.

Comprehensive reform would be great in theory — and might have been possible as either George W. Bush’s or Barack Obama’s first order of business — but right-wing anti-“amnesty,” “enforcement first” forces won’t allow anything to pass that isn’t punitive, restrictive and enormously expensive.

And that’s what the Senate bill is. It will cost probably $100 billion to build a wall across the whole Southern border and set up a national electronic status verification system covering every worker in the country.

And, it will invite illegal residents to identify themselves to authorities, then run through possibly 16 years of hoops to get a shot at citizenship, while failure to get through a hoop (say, proving continuous employment) could mean deportation.

Even the House GOP “step by step” approach isn’t likely to get through Congress. Partly that’s because some Republicans don’t want to interfere with the party’s anti-Obamacare, election-year message. Meantime, libertarians (and civil libertarians) fear that requiring every American to carry a national “biometric” ID card is Big Brotherism. And, ultra-restrictionists in the party think that giving any legal status to the undocumented is “amnesty.”

Ironically, Obama has set new records for border enhancement, deportations and “silent deportations” using federal databases to deny employment to the undocumented. He’s getting grief from Latino activists and his liberal base — but zero credit from Republicans.

He and Democrats certainly aren’t going to support a bill — such as House Republicans seem to be moving toward — that denies illegal immigrants any chance to become U.S. citizens, creating a “second class” system some have likened to apartheid.

A better answer is to think even smaller: to find elements of immigration reform with enough appeal to pass, without elements that might sink the whole process.

For instance: agribusiness and the United Farm Workers agree on the AgJOBS Act, a bill that would enable undocumented farm workers now in the U.S. to earn green cards and would allow in foreign guest workers who’d have to go home when the crops are picked.

Both Democrats and (many, if not most) Republicans agree that young people brought to this country as children and raised as Americans ought to be able to become citizens. So the DREAM Act ought to make it as part of “small” reform legislation.

Both parties also agree we need more highly skilled workers and should allow foreign science graduates to stay in the U.S. if they choose.

And, to satisfy “enforcement first” types, the package could include experiments in biometric identification for guest workers and persons coming in on visas — plus an electronic status verification system to track them, but not IDs and electronic tracking for every person in the country who applies for a job.

Granted, this “small” reform package would not address the plight of most adults here illegally. It’s terrible that they have to live their lives “in the shadows,” but the polarized American political system just can’t solve their situation now.

The bottom line: Congress should get a few sensible, necessary things done. Fix part of what’s broken. Politically, that will be hard enough.

January 29, 2014

Despite Obama’s Rhetoric, the State of the Union Is Not Strong | Kondracke

Delivering his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, President Barack Obama was vigorous, earnest, positive, non-confrontational, occasionally funny and determined to get things done.

But the word that kept popping into my head as I listened was: sugar-coating.

From the jobs numbers he cited (“8 million … over the past four years”), to education performance (a “graduation rate at its highest level in more than three decades”), to deficits (“cut by more than half”), to Obamacare signups (“more than 9 million”), to Iran’s nuclear intentions (“Iran is not building a bomb.”), to prospects for Afghanistan (“After 2014, we will support a unified Afghanistan as it takes responsibility for its own future.”), Obama tried to put the best possible face on the State of the Union, which he called “strong.”

He was evidently trying to convince Americans that he does not deserve to have a 43 percent approval rating (his lowest ever), that nearly two-thirds of voters (63 percent in the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll) are mistaken to think that the country is off on the wrong track and that it’s wrong that (according to Quinnipiac) only 46 percent think he is honest and trustworthy and 48 percent say he is not a strong leader.

He tried to assert his leadership, saying: “America does not stand still and neither will I. So, wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.”

But while the list of things he could do was positive, it was nowhere near what it would take to address what he rightly, but late in the day, called “the defining issue of our time” — the failure of the modern U.S. economy to guarantee upward mobility and opportunity to the vast middle class.

Obama has no specific plans to do the things that might turn that trend around — tax reform that closes loopholes and lowers rates, an entitlement overhaul that shifts benefits from old people to young, a de-regulated and de-bureaucratized infrastructure and energy agenda. He mentioned such plans in only general terms, and omitted entitlement reform completely.

The truth is, the state of the union is not strong and a worried public knows it. The economic recovery is weak — only 74,000 net new jobs created last month when 250,000 a month are needed. In education, the nation’s 15-year-olds rank 28th on world science tests and 36th in math. Deficits are down, but the gross national debt is still more than 100 percent of gross domestic product and is on a rising trajectory. Iran has not given up its capacity to make a nuclear weapon and the United States figures to be just another foreign power that failed to tame Afghanistan.

Regardless what sugar he applies, Obama’s fortunes depend on how his signature program — Obamacare — turns out. And the signs are not good. Yes, people can get insurance regardless of pre-existing conditions and young people can stay on their parents’ policies until they are 26. But sign-ups under Obamacare skew old and sick, menacing the private insurance market. And millions of people are either losing their old insurance policies, seeing their premiums sky-rocket or both. Obama did not suggest any fixes.

He avoided blaming Republicans for his failures, but he’s not going to get much cooperation from them this year — maybe on immigration, but probably not. And at the rate things are going, he may face both a Republican House and a Republican Senate after this year’s elections. Obama tried to be upbeat, but the realities of his situation are down.

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