Republican fury over President Barack Obama's drastic executive action on immigration distracts from the most obvious solution: the sensible compromise that senators from both parties passed more than 500 days ago, only to have it bottled up by Speaker John Boehner in the House.
It has one major flaw, as far as House Republicans are concerned: Obama likes it.
"I worked with Congress on a comprehensive fix," the president said in his Thursday immigration speech, "and last year, 68 Democrats, Republicans and independents came together to pass a bipartisan bill in the Senate. It wasn't perfect. It was a compromise, but it reflected common sense."
"It would have doubled the number of border patrol agents, while giving undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship if they paid a fine, started paying their taxes, and went to the back of the line," he said. "And independent experts said that it would help grow our economy and shrink our deficits."
It would also add drones, watchtowers, camera systems, ground sensors and 700 miles of fencing along the Mexican border. All of this would have to happen before the first eligible migrants would receive "green cards" for permanent permission to live and work here.
That's what conservatives say they want: stronger border security before clearing any more immigrants for a pathway to legal status.
The Senate "gang of eight" that wrote the bill included leading Republicans: Florida's Marco Rubio, South Carolina's Lindsey Graham and Arizona's John McCain and Jeff Flake.
The Democrats, for the record, were Illinois' Dick Durbin, New Jersey's Bob Menendez, New York's Chuck Schumer and Colorado's Michael Bennet.
If Boehner let a bill like that come up for a simple up-or-down House vote it would pass, but probably not with a majority of Republican House members supporting it.
Even before the Senate bill passed last year Boehner said he would not bring up any immigration compromise for a vote unless it was supported by a majority of House Republicans -- and he's sticking to it.
Boehner clings to his own version of an informal, unwritten rule declared by former Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois: Thou shalt not pass anything in the House with less than a majority of Republicans' votes.
That spells trouble for immigration repairs, since Republican congressmen tend to come from districts that have fewer, if any, immigrant communities that their Democratic colleagues do.
Although all sides claim to be interested in fixing at least one part or another of our broken immigration system, nothing has gotten done since the Senate bill went to the House.
Considering how the president faces more of the same for the rest of his final two years in office -- especially now that his conservative do-nothing opposition has been strengthened by mid-term election victories -- I am not shocked to see Obama declare that enough is enough.
Like most other Americans, according to polls, I'd rather see President Obama respect the traditional process of negotiating and legislating. But I'm also realistic enough to recognize the brick wall of opposition he faces -- and the shrinking amount of time that he has left in office.
How can Republicans retaliate? Boehner and other Obama critics fume that he is acting like an "emperor" and operating outside his constitutional authority. In fact, he is operating well within his authority, which only makes them more furious. But it's hard to withdraw cooperation when you haven't been cooperating very much.
Obama knows how to stay within constitutional boundaries. His executive action is modest compared to the Senate bill, which is projected to protect as many as 8 million immigrants from deportation. Obama will remove the threat of deportation for perhaps as many as 5 million. Although no previous president has taken executive action on the scale that Obama is proposing, almost all since at least the 1950s have taken similar measures on a smaller scale.
Without Congress, all the president can constitutionally offer is a temporary reprieve to millions of people who now live in a legal limbo. "Temporary" means they can live and work in the United States without fear of deportation, until this president's time in office runs out. By then, his action could be an election issue. Then the voters can decide who offers real solutions, not just more problems.
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