Thursday, July 4, 2013

political self interest

Self interest is the best predictor and motivation for human political activity. Rarely do other factors matter more. As I read the news about Senate passage of immigration reform legislation, and about the dismal prospects for House action, self interest seemed to matter most.

Senate Republicans, many of whom would like to be presidential candidates, saw the demographic writing on the wall and wanted to make their party more attractive to Hispanics. House Republicans, by contrast, often come from districts with small minority populations and fear nativist opposition if they seem to grant benefits to undocumented foreigners.

While that analysis might be sufficient, it was fascinating to read Ryan Lizza's account of the immigration reform fight in the Senate in The New Yorker. He depicts a welcome but rare bipartisan effort to craft a bill that served Republican, Democratic, administration, and Senate institutional interests. The "gang of eight" undertook to find bridge-building compromises, especially to keep Marco Rubio part of the process. That's the way the process is supposed to work when power is closely divided.

It's useful to contrast this latest "gang" effort with two earlier failures. Chairman Baucus of the Senate Finance Committee tried to work out a bipartisan health care reform bill in 2009, and the president wisely stood aside, but Baucus couldn't make it work and the whole reform effort almost failed completely. Another "gang" worked quietly to develop a deficit reduction and tax reform package in 2011 but was out of synch with the Obama-Boehner discussions and the associated political games.  These bipartisan groups can succeed, but they take a lot of effort, skill -- and luck.

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