While Republicans settle on a least-bad immigration strategy, it’s dawned on reform opponents and their conservative allies that if the effort dies in the House, they’ll need to bring a plausible excuse to the public — that is, if they hope to sidestep at least some of the blame for the debacle.
And they think they’ve found one.Specifically, they hope to draw a connection between the White House’s recent health care reform implementation decisions and border security measures in the Senate’s immigration bill to claim their opposition to comprehensive reform stems not from substantive objections but from a sense that the Obama administration will ignore parts of an immigration law it doesn’t like.
“If you look at this Obamacare debacle that they have right now, this administration is actually deciding when and where to actually enforce the law. And that’s what some of us in the House are concerned about,” Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID), who until recently was a leading immigration reform negotiator in the House, said Sunday on Meet the Press. “If you give to this administration the authority to decide when they’re going to enforce the law, how they’re going to enforce the law … I can tell you that Janet Napolitano has already said that the border is secure. So what’s going to happen is that we’re going to give legalization to 11 million people, and Janet Napolitano’s going to come to Congress and tell us that the border’s already secure, and nothing else needs to happen.”
Labrador is referring to the Obama administration’s decision to delay the health care law’s employer mandate by one year — a move intended to smooth Obamacare implementation, but that in itself reflects the fact that Republicans will block legislative Affordable Care Act fixes, and that administrative actions are the only way to make sure the law rolls out as smoothly as possible.
Meanwhile, the Senate’s bill is now idling in the House, and with no legislative deadline forcing Speaker John Boehner to hold a vote on it, there’s a real chance it could die quietly as members gear up for midterm elections next year. Labrador says this outcome would really reflect Republicans’ lack of faith that Obama will enforce its strict border security provisions, rather than their objection to its promise of amnesty for current immigrants.
Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN) delivered a similar argument to the conservative National Review, which has opposed comprehensive immigration reform.
The Washington Examiner — no friend of the reform effort either — sums it all up “Immigration reform is dead and Obamacare implementation killed it.”
Rhetorically, this constitutes a massive improvement over the old GOP line that President Obama will somehow be at fault if the House kills immigration reform, because he secretly wants reform to fail so he can use it to rally Democrats to the polls in 2014.
But it, too, crumbles under the mildest scrutiny.
The employer mandate delay can be construed as an end run around Congress, where Republicans control the House and would laugh off an administration request to alter the mandate or delay it statutorily for a year. But it’s being exercised as an act of administrative discretion, which the executive branch often relies upon when implementing a law takes longer or is more complicated than expected.
The administration isn’t unlawfully writing the employer mandate out of existence, just like it wouldn’t unlawfully refuse to send thousands of agents to the border if an immigration reform law required them to.
And because immigration reform will be a bipartisan law if it passes, Republicans in Congress will have less incentive to stand in the way if the implementation process reveals real problems with its drafting. Which means the administration won’t be left, as it is with the ACA, facing a suboptimal choice between implementing the law poorly or taking clunky administrative steps to smooth the process out.
But more to the point, the employer mandate delay can’t really be immigration reform’s silent killer unless Republicans were otherwise willing to pass something like the Senate’s bill, including a pathway to citizenship. And there’s plenty of evidence that a guaranteed pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already in the country is what’s really driving GOP opposition to comprehensive reform.