The "grand compromise" died in an ignominious fashion last night, with supporters of the bill unable to garner even a simple majority to end debate in the Senate. In the end, the bill's overall opponents seized on a poison pill amendment that they knew would fracture the coalition supporting it, even though they themselves didn't really support the thrust of the amendment itself. Does that mean that they managed to kill the bill altogether, or will it arise from its current coma?
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) immediately announced that he would pull the bill from consideration and move on to energy legislation. But he left open the possibility that lawmakers could still reach a decision on immigration legislation and called on Bush to do more to help.
"Even though I'm disappointed, I look forward to passing this bill," Reid said after the vote. "There are ways we can do this. There's lots of support for this bill on the outside; the problem was on the inside of this chamber. ...
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), citing "the disastrous status quo that we have on immigration in America today," insisted that Democrats could have gotten the bill passed had they allowed Republicans to vote on more amendments. The effort may have collapsed, in part, because of a dispute over as few as two GOP amendments. Reid said that he offered Republicans up to eight more amendments, but Republicans apparently wanted 10 or 12.
Although McConnell acknowledged that some Republicans would never vote for the bill, he rebuked Reid for not trying harder to win over more moderate Republicans. "The key is the rest of us," McConnell said. "We could have finished this bill in a couple of more days."
McConnell added that he hoped Reid would bring the bill up again soon. "I wouldn't wait a whole long time to do it," he warned.
Procedurally, the Senate can revisit the legislation any time they want. However, it seems unlikely that they will try again this session. The members of the coalition took a beating from their constituents over the last three weeks, and for some, the political moment has passed. They do not want to sail back into those waters, at least not without a guarantee of achieving something that would make the journey worth the pain.
Part of the reason for the heated emotions was the process by which the bill came to the Senate. Reid complained about having to have so much time eaten up by amendments, but the bill took an unusual path to the Senate floor. Most of those amendments could have been offered in committee, but the backroom deal that cobbled the legislation together bypassed that process altogether. Quite obviously, enough Senators from both parties had enough problems with the massive overhaul that it shows the benefits of normal legislative process, rather than having something this complicated suddenly show up with only two weeks to parse it.
In the end, that's why Jim DeMint and other Republicans voted to sunset a guest-worker program they support -- because they couldn't stop the process any other way:
Shortly after midnight yesterday, DeMint returned to the floor and, along with three conservative Republican colleagues, voted in favor of the same measure he had opposed, to sunset the program after five years. Not that DeMint has anything against guest workers. He supports the idea. But weakening the guest-worker program would leave the bill in tatters -- and in the twisted logic of the Senate, that served DeMint's greater goal of derailing the legislation.
"If it hurts the bill, I'm for it," DeMint explained matter-of-factly.
The early-morning vote shocked members of the bipartisan coalition who have struggled to pass an immigration bill, one of the most complex and controversial that Congress has tackled in years. Leaders in both parties condemned the GOP switchers for conspiring to sabotage legislation that had taken countless delicate negotiating sessions to craft. And that was exactly the intent. The four new votes were the result of an aggressive last-minute lobbying campaign by the legislation's Democratic and Republican critics.
I doubt they were shocked, and if they were, it speaks to a certain amount of hubris evident from the first moments of this compromise. The coalition demanded a fast-track process to a floor vote and asserted that they would not allow more than a handful of amendments. They originally wanted only a week to debate the bill, but pressure from Republicans got that extended to two weeks.
In contrast, for just a simple budget supplemental for troops under fire, Congress took over 15 weeks to debate and produce a bill. For an overhaul of immigration, Border Patrol, and national-security processes, the Senate could spare only ten legislative days.
Mickey Kaus says that the bill is "just resting", and technically that's true. However, the bill's backers just learned that the Senate, and especially the Republican caucus, will not allow them to stuff a bill down their throats. They also learned that their constituents do not trust Congress to do what it says on border security, and that they have no credibility at all selling "triggers" and normalization in one package.
If they paid attention at all, they would understand that they need to rebuild credibility by tackling the issues in order. Build the security fence they passed last year first, and bolster the Border Patrol. Fix the visa management system that had been mandated for completion two years ago. Once those border-control solutions are in place and working, then debate normalization -- and I think they will find the American public more willing to work with them.
UPDATE: The Fishwrap at the Washington Times has a round-up of reactions from last night.