On Immigration Bill, Give Credit Where It’s Due

Immigration. Complicated isn’t the half of it; 380 pages and counting. Anyone can demagogue this baby.

I have to say, however, that I have great admiration for the senators from both sides of the aisle who have worked tirelessly, day in and day out, to craft a bill that goes to the heart of what the legislative process should be all about.

At the risk of pulling a “I remember the good old days” line, I have certain nostalgic feelings for my tenure as a young staff aide in the Senate in the ’70s and as a page in the mid-1960s. I remember the intense back-and-forth of civil rights bills, the compromises, the arm-twisting by Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey; I remember working on legislation growing out of Frank Church’s Intelligence Committee investigations on domestic surveillance; the Panama Canal Treaties; environmental legislation that changed the country.

The Congress back then was measured not by how many press releases or press conferences you had in a day but by what you had accomplished at the end of one. Members knew that they could never move forward on the big issues unless they worked together, often late into the night, day after day, to forge a compromise, to give in on some parts of a bill and win on others.

Today’s legislative process does not seem to reward the ability to tackle the tough problems. Many members of both parties would rather demagogue an issue than solve it. These issues — like immigration, healthcare, education reform, retirement security — don’t have simple solutions, but that’s precisely the point. We expect our legislators to legislate, to come together and offer solutions to the toughest problems.

My guess is that the public “gets it,” and that could be a key reason why polls show Congress in such low esteem with voters.

Whatever happens — and I hope we get a comprehensive solution to immigration — one has to admire the courage and tenacity of those senators who have put so much time, effort and political will into coming up with a compromise solution. They have done the institution proud with their commitment. To those who would blow it all up, who prefer to throw grenades from the sidelines, they, too, should be held accountable.