Politics

Beware the Fall Traffic Jam

Paranoia #23: Bad Traffic: It’s often said that if the battle over immigration lasts into the fall, the controversial legislation will be held up in a traffic jam of Congressional activity. Here’s Ryan Grim and Elise Foley of HuffPo:

“There will be scant opportunity for immigration reform in the fall, as a looming government shutdown, the approach of the debt ceiling and the festering sequester will combine to force themselves onto the agenda. In Congress, the fall quickly turns to Thanksgiving recess, which gives way even quicker to the Christmas break. And then it’s 2014.”

Like the former CW that the Obama scandals would slow down the immigration bill,** this assumption may be in need of rethinking. Why? Because while a traffic jam of legislation makes it hard for Congress and the President to focus on any one big issue, it also opens up the possibility for big tradeoffs of one blockbuster item for another–scary tradeoffs if, like me, you think a) the immigration legislation currently being considered is very bad policy but b) it still might pass and c) Obama really, really wants it to pass.***

For example, what if Obama told Boehner and the Republicans that he’d a) accept the sequester and his responsibility to minimize the daamge and b) commit to cutting another 5% across-the board if only Boehner would a) raise the debt ceiling by the amount saved and b) bring a legalization-first immigration bill to a vote on the House floor? That not appealing enough to GOPs? OK, throw in a year’s delay of Obamacare–which Obama may want himself, come October, but which he would be only too happy to disguise as a GOP victory. A delay in carbon dioxide regulations? Dropping of gun background checks? A complete dinette set. Three drone strikes of Boehner’s own choosing? …

You get the idea. At some point, with so many big issues nearing their crisis point, the potential for tectonic Grand Bargaining grows rapidly. If Obama wants badly enough to add an amnesty to his legacy, he could make Boehner an offer that would be hard to refuse.

It’s at least worth worrying about. …

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**–This is the former CW because it quickly became obvious that the scandals actually helped the immigration bill by distracting the public (which dislikes the bill the more it hears about it) and the conservative base (which eventually rallied against the bill at the last minute). William Kristol implicitly suggests that now the shoe is on the other foot–now Obama needs to generate publicity about immigration in order to pressure Boehner into taking up the issue. (Kristol argues that if GOPs talk about Obamacare instead they’ll stave off the pressure). I’m not so sure. Immigration still isn’t a popular priority. Passing a bill remains an inside job, driven by donors and interest groups, not voters. The more the public is distracted–by a fall debt-ceiling fight, for example, or a high-volume debate over Obamacare–the more of a cloak the insiders have for working their deals.

***–I don’t buy the idea that Obama would rather lose on immigration in this Congress in order to use the “issue” to drive Latino turnout in the 2014 midterms. That might be a second-best, win/win fallback position for the Dems. But all indications are that they won’t do that well in the midterms anyway. If GOPs actually enlarge their majority after stiffing Obama on immgiration, what does that do to the argument that they have to pass it in order to survive?  Even if it doesn’t refute it, it takes some of the energy out of it, no? Nor would Democratic chances of passing a bill be greater in the more-Republican Congess of 2015, with GOP presidential contenders (e.g., Rubio, Paul, Ryan) increasingly attentive to the base as the primaries approach.