June 9, 2006
I spent Tuesday and Wednesday visiting the offices of Virginia's congressmen delegation, explaining my position on the immigration issue to the respective staff people. I also got a better idea of what is preventing the House and Senate from reaching a workable compromise on that issue -- i.e., one that secures our borders and deals realistically with the problem of the 11 million or so existing illegal aliens. Capitol Hill staffers tend to get contemptuous from years of dealing with nitwit constituents, so it was very reassuring to be treated with courtesy and respect by the folks who work for Senators Warner and Allen, and Representatives Gooodlatte and Davis.
It had been many years since I had last toured the Capitol building, so I decided to seize the opportunity. I got in line for the Senate visitors gallery, and watched a debate over the bill to give Hawaiian native people the same legal status as that of Indian tribes. Earlier that day, the Senate had rejected the Federal marriage amendment, for which I was grateful. The proposal was nothing more than a thinly-veiled chunk of "red meat" by which the White House was trying to appease the GOP conservative base, which is up in arms about Bush's weak stance on immigration. Sorry, I'm not buyin' it.
Today the Senate failed to pass a proposed permanent extension of [the phased-out abolition of] the Federal estate tax, in a 57-41 cloture vote. I think the estate tax has been grossly unfair to farmers and small business owners, an arbitrary confiscation of wealth, but I think a compromise could be worked out, short of total elimination.
In sum, the Senate has been doing its constitutional duty this week, offsetting the impulsive ways of the House.
I also visited the Capitol Hill offices of Numbers USA, an immigration reform advocacy group. I had a very pleasant and informative chat with Mr. Van Esser, who heads the congressional relations office. He thought about my suggestion of "probation" status for illegal aliens who immediately register with the authorities, but thinks it would be in practice little different from the various amnesty proposals, which would indeed be patently unfair to those outside the United States who are patiently waiting for their visas to come through.
I've never been a big fan of Rep. Tom DeLay, but I'm glad in a way that he went out "swinging" in his final speech to the House. On the PBS News Hour, David Brooks put it exactly right in commenting on DeLay's lack of remorse:
You can give him credit for honesty. He believed in partisanship. And to some extent, I have no problem with partisanship. My problem with Tom DeLay was sometimes he could be partisan at the expense of conservatism. And especially on matters ... of spending. What he did was he turned the majority into a fundraising and spending machine in order to get more Republican fannies in those seats. And that's fine, but the spending was not what Republicans were supposed to stand for. The earmarks was not what they were supposed to stand for. So, in some ways, he was an old-fashioned party boss who built a majority by betraying some conservative principles.
I should note that one of the Capitol Hill staffers I talked to put in a good word for earmarked ("pork barrel") spending, on the grounds that tends to be more efficient and responsive to local needs than spending directed by bureaucrats in Washington.