Grizzled political veterans like Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer have learned that the best way to sell unpopular policies is to convince us that everyone else is as unhappy about it as we are. In the sometimes surreal world that exists inside the Beltway, a good piece of legislation is one that leaves everyone feeling like they got a raw deal.
Occasionally, on matters where public opinion is pretty evenly divided, a compromise that gives everyone a little of what they want in exchange for a little of what they don’t want has some merit. But no matter how hard Capitol Hill dealmakers try to spin, extolling the virtues of a grand compromise is not justified when a small minority gets a lot of what they want, while the vast majority gets nothing at all.
Among the many provisions of the wildly expensive so-called Build Back Better (BBB) Act that is now before the Senate is one that would grant de facto amnesty to an estimated 7 million illegal aliens. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that such a provision would add $115 billion to the federal deficit over the next decade (not an insignificant sum, even in an era where trillion price tags no longer induce sticker shock). Beyond the CBO’s ten-year scoring, the costs of a mass amnesty would likely run into the trillions.
For these and other reasons, the amnesty provisions of the BBB have very little public support. They also provide nothing of value to the American people, especially at a time when 80% of the public, according to a Harvard-Harris poll, believes that our record-setting levels of new illegal immigration are a serious problem, and 65% believe that policies put in place by the slender Democratic majority are encouraging more illegal immigration. While the BBB offers legal presence and work permits to millions of people who broke our laws, it does not even make the pretense of controlling future illegal immigration that four out of five Americans see as a serious problem.
Undoubtedly, as the bill is taken up by the Senate, Majority Leader Schumer will make much of the fact that the immigration provisions do not give amnesty advocates everything they are demanding. Hence, he will declare it to be a noble compromise and a shining example of the way the system is supposed to work. With the help of the media, he will gloss over the obvious fact that 80 percent of the American people are getting nothing they want, while the 20 percent who support amnesty and open borders are getting much of what they want.
In order for the ruse to work, Schumer must be able to demonstrate just how unhappy he is making the small segment of the public that wants unconditional amnesty for every illegal alien in the county. He seems to have that covered. In a letter addressed to Schumer and other Senate leaders last week, 91 House Democrats (representing, appropriately enough, 21% of the American public) complained that the immigration provisions approved in that chamber’s version of BBB do not go nearly far enough in rewarding illegal aliens. Even though there is virtually no chance that ostensibly temporary immigration benefits once extended would ever be repealed, they demand that the Senate version include an immediate pathway to citizenship for millions of illegal aliens.
The signatories know full-well that the Senate parliamentarian has already rejected attempts to include a full-blown amnesty as part of a filibuster-proof budget reconciliation bill, and that even an amnesty thinly disguised as a temporary reprieve will be a heavy lift. But that’s not the point.
The point is to provide Schumer, and Democrats generally, with political cover in the remote event that the Senate parliamentarian allows this unpopular de facto amnesty provisions to be included in the Senate bill. The point is to provide Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez another crying opportunity, as she laments that the small ideological sliver of the American electorate she represents didn’t get everything they believe they are entitled to. The point is to sell the American public on the idea that a bill that gives 80% of the public nothing of what it wants, and the other 20% most of what it wants is somehow a fair compromise because AOC breaks down on the floor of the House.
Compromise is splitting the difference between parties with equal claims and legitimacy. By that definition, the amnesty provisions in the BBB are anything but the high-minded compromise the Senate Democratic leadership will try to sell to the American people.
Ira Mehlman is media director at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in Washington D.C.