Chance for Bipartisanship?


Here’s a word you haven’t heard on the hill in a while; bipartisanship.

Why, just about the only time you heard the word was when partisan on one side bemoaned that the other side wasn’t being bipartisan, and that it was their fault. It was sort of a constant varia- tion to the tune of “I’ve Got Those Ain’t Got No Bipartisanship Blues,” and everything was singing it off key.

Well, it’s a new day on Capitol Hill, and bipar- tisanship—”bipardismo” to you Spanish speak- ers—was in the air, sort of like love springs in the spring. And it was the need, desire, aching-for- action on a comprehensive immigration bill that was the spur.

Three Republican and three Democrats, two of them—Democratic Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida—making their statement in Spanish to the delight of English and Spanish speakers alike. The gang of eight—it includes Republicans John McCain of Arizona, Jeff Flake of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Democrats Richard Durbin of Illinois, Charles Schumer of New York, and Michael Bennet of Colorado— announced a wide-ranging proposal to overhaul the country’s immigration laws as they exist. Sen. John McCain who has waxed hot and cold on the issue for years is once again in the forefront—he said we need to fix the mistakes of 1986.

President Barack Obama was expected to set forth his own principles and plan Jan. 29, which rumor has it are somewhat like the Senate plan but more liberal and more focused on getting illegal aliens on a path to citizenship.

The president and senators agreed that the effort would be bipartisan. For Obama, he was keeping a promise and a voting bloc. For the Republicans, it was pragmatism, spurred quite a bit by electoral defeat in which the Latino vote figured prominently.

Here are elements of the Senate plan: quick legalization status for illegal immigrants provided that they pay back taxes and a fine. The path toward citizenship would be delayed until further strengthening of the nation’s border. Rubio said it would modernize the entire legal immigration sys- tem and added that we have to deal with the people that are here now “in a way that’s responsible and humane.”

The White House’s participations in the Senate bipartisan effort was minimal while reports said that Obama’s administration had been working on their plan for a long time.

So: bipartisanship or competing plans?

Still, here are Democrats and Republicans working together, and the White House praising the effort and calling it similar to its plans. In the age of lowered expectations, that’s something, a far cry from four decades in which both sides in the end seemed to stumble, often bitterly, toward the arid desert of complete breakdown and failure to negotiate. Obama pushed through a Health Care bill without a single Republican vote. The Senate Republican leader almost from the moment Obama took office four years ago vowed to make it his mission to oust and opposed Obama.

The Republicans are going back to work chas- tened by their unexpected electoral loss. That may have spurred a lot of soul searching by party stalwarts and future presidential candidates, which is all to the good.

Of course, there have been attempts to reform and re-plan immigration before without much headway.

But just listening to the remarkable blame-free and rhetoric-free talk of late (the last 24 hours) should give one, if not hope, at least pause.

What’s next?

A joint . . . ahem . . . bipartisan effort on tax reform?

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