COURSEY: On cliffs, ceilings and real issues
Published: Tuesday, January 15, 2013 at 1:59 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 15, 2013 at 1:59 p.m.
It's not hard to understand why so little gets accomplished in Washington, D.C. With Congress narrowly avoiding falling off a 'fiscal cliff' only to bump up against a debt ceiling, there's not much chance to hold still long enough to do something useful like, say, reform our broken immigration system.
Like the poor guy who jumps from the frying pan into the fire, our government has no time for cool calculation and reasoned debate.
But the cliff and the ceiling aren't burning issues. Or at least they shouldn't be. The fiscal cliff-hanger was a plot written by the very people who decried it, and it was pushed right up to the edge for no other reason than for one side or the other to improve its negotiating position. The debt ceiling is another manufactured crisis, with some members of Congress turning a routine bookkeeping matter into a major political chip to use at the budget bargaining table.
Meanwhile, the big issues get deferred.
Take immigration reform, for example. The New York Times told us over the weekend that this issue is right up there at the top of the Obama Administration's agenda. The president, said the Times, “plans to push Congress to move quickly in the coming months on an ambitious overhaul of the immigration system.”
That came as good news to the millions of illegal immigrants in this country who would like to follow a path to American citizenship. It should also cheer their families, friends, neighbors, co-workers and employers who depend on these immigrants as part of the fabric of their communities. It should give hope to those awaiting a chance to immigrate within the new laws.
But on Monday, as the president delivered the last White House press conference of his first term, it was easy to see why immigration reform has been so hard to achieve over the past couple of decades.
No one wants to talk about it.
If this is a major policy initiative for Obama, he gave no indication of it on Monday. And if it is an important debate to Americans, someone should alert the press.
Because, other than a passing mention from the president in his opening statement at the press conference, not a word was spoken about immigration.
We're tied up in knots over guns and the debt ceiling, and apparently there is no remaining cranial capacity to talk about anything else of substance.
That's a shame, especially considering the president and press corps were able to find time to talk about whether he is “sociable” enough to govern, and that Obama made a lengthy point of defending himself as “a pretty nice guy.”
That's great, but there are an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country — along with their aforementioned families, friends, neighbors, co-workers and employers — who are waiting to hear the administration's plan for their future. Last week, White House officials said immigration will be a priority for the president in the early months of 2013. This week, he was more interested in talking about inviting Republicans to the White House to play cards.
And the debt ceiling argument appears to have enough legs to carry it into the spring, with talk of “default” and “recession” fueling the gathering storm. Apparently, the beginning of 2013 is going to sound a lot like the end of 2012.
It's an issue that's a lot easier to fix than immigration, and everyone knows how it will turn out in the end. But that won't keep it from tying Washington in knots.
Which means, realistically, that the immigration issue isn't nearly as close to the front burner as the Times story might have us believe. Which is too bad, because while the federal debt and the federal deficit affect us all, immigration reform is an issue that in the end can directly affect more people's lives than the gun debate, and in more profound ways than the debt ceiling brouhaha.
Let's hope Congress can find some room between the cliff and the ceiling to talk about it.
Chris Coursey's blog offers a community commentary and forum, from issues of the day to the ingredients of life in Sonoma County.
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