Sen. Lindsey Graham seems the odd man out in Congress these days.
The South Carolina Republican has taken heat from both parties for trying to work with the Democratic majority on major legislation, particularly energy and immigration.
He and New York Democrat Chuck Schumer have worked the hardest to bringing immigration reform off the back burner; the two pledged last month they would offer a bill that lawmakers could debate before the November elections.
But Graham on Saturday bailed out on the effort, saying the matter needs to be tabled.
He has good reason.
The senator announced his change of opinion after President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid sought to take advantage of the fallout to Arizona’s immigration control law by making immigration reform the immediate priority. Reid said the matter would be fast-tracked, and resolved before the next major legislation, a new energy bill.
In announcing his opposition, Graham called Reid’s and Obama’s sudden interest in the matter “phony,” and insisted the energy bill, which is ready to be filed, be taken as scheduled.
Graham, along with Sens. John Kerry and Joe Lieberman, had planned to offer the energy bill on Monday. No immigration bill has been written as yet, although Schumer, Reid and Sen. Robert Menendez, D. N.J., all Democrats, have started working on one.
The oppressive Arizona law enacted last week and the reaction it has wrought nationwide makes it clear that immigration is a critical matter and should be addressed as soon as possible. It’s such an important issue that the proper time and attention needs to be taken to do it right.
Graham is right: It should not be rushed through. Fast-tracking a bill, as Reid suggests, generally means debate is limited, amendments are restricted and votes are mostly all-or-nothing. Applying those restrictions to such a complex issue guarantees failure.
Our nation’s immigration problems have been a major issue for decades, and Congress has debated reform measures several times. The most recent major effort was in 2006, when alarmists and nativists pushed through measures that focused on restrictions and interdiction — such as the ineffective and wasteful border fence — without addressing the need to improve the permitting process that leads so many people to enter illegally.
Already some lawmakers have announced no such reform will be considered before border security is improved. That and other points should be considered, and debated thoroughly, along with the equally valid point that first improving the visa system will reduce the amount of illegal immigration, and ease security concerns.
Throwing together and rushing through a bill simply for political expediency, without the debate and consideration needed to address all contingencies and concerns, could create more problems than it solves.
Graham’s colleagues should listen to the lone voice of reason on this issue.