Friday, May 26, 2006
Well, the Senate has done it again. In the comprehensive immigration reform bill, they have passed what may be the worst piece of legislation ever, surpassing even the Medicare drug bill.
What pushes it over the edge is the inclusion of an incredibly poorly thought-out guestworker program. The program is massive. It is not focused on normalizing the status of seasonal agricultural workers (we already have a program for that, actually). And it is self-contradictory on multiple points. It's nominally for temporary workers, but President Bush explicitly rejected an amendment requiring such workers to go home when their specified term is up. It's designed for relatively low-skill employment but it extends Davis-Bacon privileges to all guestworkers. It's supposed to reduce the incentive to come in illegally by providing a clear legal path to work here, but the new process is incredibly complicated and confusing and will require a new bureaucracy to enforce (assuming it is enforced, which, based on past experience, it doubtful).
And, even ignoring all this, in my own opinion a guestworker program as such is something we should not want. We should want people who come to America to identify with America, and we should not make our economy dependent on an imported class of bondsmen. That's not what America is about.
The very attempt to be comprehensive has resulted in an incoherent mess that fails to respond to any of the various immigration questions in a coherent way.
This bill does not make it easier for large corporations to manage their global workforce and to quickly get the skilled workers they need in a timely fashion. It expands our existing hodge-podge system without simplifying it. We're still making it too hard for the people we really want to come to get here.
The bill does not comprehensively control the border, the one thing that the GOP base demands and that the country as a whole clearly wants.
The bill does not clearly reduce the incentives for people to come to America illegally. By amnestying those who are already here and creating a complex new infrastructure for bringing in guestworkers who are not intended to be on a citizenship track, the bill actually creates substantial incentives for additional illegal immigration.
Inasmuch as the reason the Senate is considering the issue is that the country is upset about illegal immigration, the bill is a massive non-sequitur.
Immigration is not my issue. There are three million immigrants in my home town, and I can't see that New York City has been hurt by them. But this legislation is an abomination.
There is something profoundly broken in Washington. This is not the first bill that has been produced in this decade that seems designed to be a disaster. The farm bill, highway bill and energy bills were hodge-podges designed to waste money and achieve little. Bush's tax bills had a few sensible core ideas but were also filled with anti-productive loopholes and loaded with gimmicks like automatic sunset provisions that no one could possibly favor on the merits; they were designed with public-relations in mind more than policy. The reorganization of the government that created the Homeland Security Department was barely thought-out and has proved a disaster; ditto for the reorganization of intelligence. And then we had the Medicare drug bill, an amalgam of the worst ideas of both parties. And now we have this immigration monstrosity.
This was not always the case. In the 1980s and 1990s, Congress was able to craft a variety of bills that basically did what they said. Reagan's 1981 tax cuts and 1986 tax reform each did basically what they were supposed to do. Welfare reform and farm-subsidies reform in the 1990s each did basically what they were supposed to do. The 1986 immigration bill, for all that it is much-criticized in retrospect, was sold as an amnesty; it failed, in large part because it was not enforced, but it was not designed to fail, nor was it structured and sold in a deceptive manner.
Something has gone very, very wrong in Washington. Occam's Razor would suggest that what has gone wrong is that the Bush Administration is completely indifferent to the legislative process. On some deep level, they don't care whether we have good laws. That is a very, very damning indictment, far more damning, in my view, than the charge that they are simply incompetent or that they are deceptive, saying one thing but intending another. It may also be an insufficient explanation; Congress, and the Senate in particular, seems almost eager to take mediocre bills and by heroic effort transform them into positively awful bills. But if the President cared about whether we have good laws, some of these laws would not be on the books. So presumably he doesn't care.
It would probably be best if no laws whatever were passed between now and January 2009. I simply no longer trust Washington to produce legislation on any topic whatever.