In a discussion of the struggling Immigration Reform Bill, George Will tells about the Compromise of 1850. Henry Clay worked it out, but the bill that would implement it–dealing with scores of inter-related issues, such as limiting the spread of slavery, statehood for California, the mode of territorial government for Utah, what to do about fugitive slaves, and on and on–could never get passed. It was up to Stephen Douglas, better known as Lincoln’s nemesis, to get the legislation through. He broke the gargantuan bill apart into smaller bills, each of which found its own constituency, and each of which passed.
Mr. Wills says that part of the problem in our paralyzed government is that bills are just too long. They try to cover everything. Which is a symptom of a government that thinks it knows everything.
Now, consider the “comprehensive” immigration bill passed this year by the Senate, and Sen. Marco Rubio’s judgment that “if we stick to the position of all or nothing, we’re going to end up with nothing.”
The bill, which Rubio helped to write, is 1,197 pages long.
It is 1,193 pages longer than the National Archive’s parchment copy of the Homestead Act of 1862, which is one of the most important legislative acts in U.S. history . Passed when there were few national laws regulating immigration, the Homestead Act was designed to attract immigrants to settle the continent’s interior.
Today’s Senate bill is gigantic because it deals with everything. Its size is proportional to Washington’s serene confidence that it knows everything. What should be the hourly wage of an agricultural sorter in 2016? The Senate bill (through an explanation given on page 318) says $9.84. And the hourly wage of a worker in a nursery? Twenty cents less than the agricultural sorter’s wage. Some senators know everything.
The bill also contains a remarkable geographical insight: Nevada is a border state. Your eyes tell you its southern tip is about 200 miles from the Mexican border, but the bill, which includes $46.3 billion in border security spending, decrees that Nevada is eligible for border pork.
Immigration reforms should address three problems — border security (the least important problem; about 40 percent of those here illegally came on visas they overstayed), the needs of America’s workforce and the status of the 11 million here illegally. If McConnell were majority leader, the bill would be broken into manageable bits, and there might be found a different majority coalition for each.
But the majority leader is a Democrat (Harry Reid from the border state of Nevada) whose party has one overriding interest: turning as many of the 11 million into voters as fast as possible. They are holding all immigration reforms hostage to this objective. Which shall be the case unless and until McConnell is majority leader.