Good morning, loyal readers of this blog. I’m happy to be joining you again this weekend. Good morning also to all those undocumented immigrants who are up at dawn across the country today, whether you’ve been working all night mixing cocktails at some Los Angeles club, or whether you’ve set your alarm for early practice with your college cross-country team. Now that everyone is debating what to do about the Syrian crisis, you might be wondering if Washington, D.C. has forgotten about you. With members of Congress devoting their energy this month to President Obama’s proposed military intervention, it looks unlikely that they’ll pass legislation on immigration reform, too.
Well, maybe Washington, D.C. has forgotten about you. It has a very weak short-term memory. But, this blog hasn’t, nor has Benjy Sarlin, who laid out the situation earlier this week:
Per its current schedule, Congress has just nine working days in September, 14 days in October, eight days in November, and another eight in December. So far the House has produced only a handful of legislative proposals on immigration, none of which deal with the most sensitive topics-mainly whether to include a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
After the debate about Syria, members have to pass a resolution to continue funding the government, and they’ll also have to raise the debt ceiling. Next year, they’ll be getting ready for the mid-term election in November, spending time much of their away from Washington.
It isn’t just time that Congressional leaders are running short of. It’s favors and threats as well. The votes on the budget will be difficult, and Republican leaders, especially in the House, will have to cajole and coerce rank-and-file members into supporting what they will see as a compromise with Obama. The same is true of the vote on the Syrian crisis. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Oh.) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) support intervention, a position that their caucus likely sees as an electoral blunder. There is widespread public opposition to a military strike, particularly among independents.
I doubt that, after voting with Boehner and Cantor on these two issues, conservative members would want to make any more sacrifices for the Republican Party. They’d feel vulnerable going into the election campaign next year having supported not just a military intervention abroad and an increase in the debt ceiling, but also a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. They’d be concerned about turning out the base.
All of this is a way of illustrating that when the president decides to make something a national issue, he is simultaneously pushing something else to the bottom of the agenda. As David Frum explained, any policy has an opportunity cost as well as a monetary cost:
A Syria campaign is being advertised as comparatively cheap in money and American lives. We’re promised “no boots on the ground.” But there’s another cost in danger of being overlooked: the opportunity cost.
The president, the secretary of state, the secretary of defense and other top officials have only so much time and energy. If they commit to resolving the Syrian civil war, inevitably they give second shrift, or third shrift, or worse to many other concerns of arguably greater importance to the region and the world.
Frum goes on to suggest that official Washington might do better to spend their time on the developing situation in Egypt. Yet Obama’s proposal to attack Syria also raises questions about his values and priorities outside of the Middle East. Latinos might feel that he lacks genuine concern about the lives of undocumented immigrants in this country, and who could blame them?
Ultimately, the enduring historical significance of the controversy over Syria might be as a distraction from any number of other important areas of policy in which our government has more leverage, including domestic issues such as immigration or health care. To compensate for what I can’t help but see as a failure of presidential leadership, I’m going to spend as much time as possible this weekend specifically trying to avoid the topic of Syria.