Our Democratic Senators have voted right. Repeatedly.
And it has been our pleasure to thank them for those votes. Repeatedly.
From the first vote to attempt to kill the bill before it even began debate, through a long string of amendments, and down to the final cloture votes, they did Montana proud. We were wary, knowing that the pressures in their caucus would be great for them to cast a few symbolic votes against the bill and then, when votes were in the balance, to switch sides.
Even more importantly, Sens. Baucus and Tester articulated from the beginning reasoning that was sound. They wanted border enforcement, they opposed amnesty and stated that people here illegally should not be given preference over those who are obeying the rules. They also insisted that American workers be protected.
One of the things that has been particularly gratifying is that it was Sens. Baucus and Tester with their REAL ID amendment that broke the back of this bill. Read, for instance what National Review editor Rich Lowry wrote. The opening sentence gives the setup: "A key moment was last night when the Baucus amendment on REAL ID wasn't tabled."
Lowry portrays the conservative votes for Baucus's amendment stripping the bill of any REAL ID components as being strategic:
A few shrewd conservatives had seen the potential here and voted against tabling Baucus—even though they didn't support the amendment—because they knew it would throw a monkey wrench in the process. When Baucus wasn't tabled because of those surprise conservative votes, a desperate Reid moved to vote on it right away to try to get it out of the way. But he couldn't because he couldn't get unanimous consent from opponents of the bill. Procedurally, he had been check-mated...
When Baucus wasn't tabled because of those surprise conservative votes, a desperate Reid moved to vote on it right away to try to get it out of the way. But he couldn't because he couldn't get unanimous consent from opponents of the bill. Procedurally, he had been check-mated...
The whole issue of how REAL ID affected the entire bill is a complex one. Given that the bill changed almost hourly throughout the process (not by amendment, but through the Senate staffs of Kennedy and McCain simply rewriting it at will,) following any particular provision is difficult. It is not accurate to say that the immigration bill would have mandated REAL ID: after all, REAL ID has already been voted into law, passing both House and Senate (it passed the Senate unanimously under cover of a critical funding bill.)
The Baucus amendment was, in that sense, symbolic, since it wouldn't have undone the force of law that the REAL ID bill currently has.
Some conservatives saw the REAL ID standards in the immigration bill as essential to workplace enforcement, but when push came to shove, they certainly had to realize that workplace enforcement wasn't going to happen anyway. Not under this president.
Getting back to Sens. Baucus and Tester, they remained consistent to the end, insisting that their amendment was motivated by privacy concerns about a national ID but also that they were glad that it killed the entire bill in the process.
Baucus: "We scored a major victory today in our efforts to protect privacy and defeat a bad immigration bill at the same time... If Jon and I just brought down the entire bill, that's good for Montana and the country..."
Tester: "If by fighting to keep government out of people’s private lives, Max Baucus and I stopped the senate from passing this flawed immigration bill, then this was a real victory for Montana and the American people."
Either Senator could have hidden behind the REAL ID portion alone, and remained silent on the immigration bill itself, giving them cover with their disgruntled left wing in Montana, which only ever objected to the guest worker provision of the immigration bill.
That they did not is to their credit, and likely reflects their accurate read on how the overwhelming majority of Montanans felt about this bill.
The guestworker provision was, to be sure, a hideous feature of the bill. It was a sop to big business, plain and simple. Opponents of this bill on both the left and the right were in full agreement on that.
Opponents on the left correctly noted that guestworkers only needed to be paid minimum wage, and would undercut prevailing wages of legal workers.
What is difficult to understand is that many of these opponents on the left would have fully supported the bill if only the guestworker provision had been removed.
This position makes no sense, since it completely ignored the fact that illegal immigrants are the ultimate undercutters of American wages -- since they are illegal, they can be and are often paid less even than minimum wage.
We know from the experience of the 1986 amnesty bill that the net effect of amnesty (particularly in the absence of border and workplace enforcement) is to attract even more illegal immigrants.
Question: who would those who currently employ illegal workers hire once those illegal workers became legal? Would they employ these newly legal workers, to whom they are now required to pay minimum, and perhaps prevailing wage rates? Or will they instead hire from the new flood of illegal workers coming across the border, continuing to pay less than minimum wage? That was a rhetorical question, by the way.
Legal workers need to be protected both from guestworkers and from illegal workers -- both of which depress wages. After all, with all due disrespect to those who say otherwise, there is no job a legal worker in America won't do. There are only wages for those jobs that legal American workers won't accept.
The next question is one of border and workplace enforcement. There are laws on the books, there is money available for enforcement, a long stretch of fence has been funded. There are sanctions against employers -- and there need to be more of them, and stiffer ones.
So, will President Bush begin to enforce the laws, as he has recently loudly proclaimed that he desires to do? That, too, is unfortunately a rhetorical question.
Perhaps our Senators from Montana, who put the final knife in this bad bill, can begin to push for some Senate hearings on why this administration has been so abysmally bad at securing our borders -- in the wake of 9/11, no less.