Friday, September 15, 2006

All hat and no cattle from House Republicans

On Thursday, for the second time in ten months, the Republican controlled House once again voted to construct a 700-mile long wall along the southern border. The bill, sponsored by Homeland Security Committee Chairman, Peter King (NY-3) comes after a summer-long series of hearings held in hopes of whipping up some support for a similar proposal passed last December as part of the House’s immigration reform package.

Recent polls now show that concern over immigration is waning among voters, falling far bellow the war in Iraq, terrorism and the economy as their chief concern. Additionaly, Democrats are holding a strong advantage in almost all categories when asked ‘who do you think would do a better job.” Against this backdrop, King and his cohorts are trying to breathe new life into the immigration debate, hoping to gain some advantage going into the November election.

Emboldened by the primary win in Arizona by "Minuteman candidate", Randy Graf, who ran a single-issue, anti-immigration campaign against his more moderate Republican opponent, the “enforcement-only” wing of the party appear to be looking at immigration to be a possible Hail Mary play in what’s shaping up to be disastrous election cycle for House Republicans.

But the plan could backfire.

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For one thing, the House failed to fund the wall building project with an estimated cost of $2 billion. It also has little chance of getting through the Senate as a stand–alone item not connected to a broader comprehensive bill. This leaves the legislation looking more like an election year ploy than any real attempt at meaningful border security. “I voted for the un-funded border wall” doesn’t make for the most compelling campaign slogan. Those voters who see immigration as their chief concern will not be satisfied with half-hearted attempts and excuses. They’ve been convinced by the rabid rantings of Tom Tancredo, Pat Buchanan and Lou Dobbs that their nation is being invaded… and they want to see it stopped.

Additionally, there has been backlash against a lack of compromise on a comprehensive immigration plan coming from many areas in traditionally Republican strongholds in agricultural regions. From Florida citrus growers, Idaho potato farmers, NE apple farmers, and fruit and row-crop growers in California a clear message has been sent over the past month that they simply do not have the workers to bring in their harvests. Most blame a combination of tightening border security, anti-immigrant rhetoric and lack of leadership in Washington for preventing the needed agricultural workers from making their yearly migration from Mexico to the US to work the harvest. Some have already left crops to rot in the fields for a lack of workers and many more warn of a worsening situation as we move towards the peak harvest season.

The Republican House now seems to be faced with a dilemma from which they cannot escape. Having spent ten months stirring up the anti-immigration pot in hopes of creating an issue to run on in November, they have failed to deliver on their promises to that 7% of the population who view immigration as the most important issue, while at that same time alienating many traditional rural Republicans who now see their livelihoods threatened.

It’s just another case of all hat and no cattle from the House Republicans.

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