Congratulations, America: Congress Has Finally Outsourced Itself

Rather than work to tailor a guest-worker program that would please the major constituencies on each side, the Senate just handed the negotiation over to those groups.
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Senators Jeff Flake, Chuck Schumer, John McCain, and Michael Bennet on a visit to the Mexican border near Nogales, Arizona. (Associated Press)

The prospects for comprehensive immigration reform got a bit brighter today, as U.S. business and labor groups reportedly drew closer to an agreement on how to structure a guest worker program aimed at low-skill immigrants. According to the New York Times, the potential accord between the Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO would "clear one of the last hurdles" standing in the way of a bipartisan Senate bill. 

That's great news and all. But it's worth noting the depressing circumstances underpinning it: Congress, it appears, has gone and outsourced its job to the lobbyists. Explicitly. New York Senator Chuck Schumer has said outright that he and his colleagues would wait on a recommendation from the AFL-CIO, representing the Democratic voice, and the Chamber, for conservatives, before touching the guest-worker issue themselves.  

And from a strategic perspective, that makes a grim sort of sense. George W. Bush's 2007 attempt at reform was doomed in part by a clash between business and labor. Nobody wants to hit that iceberg again, and getting the two sides to the table ahead of time is nothing if not efficient. Same goes for having them talk directly to each other, rather than through their preferred elected officials. It's not uncommon for industry groups to consult legislators and advise them through these sorts of side-bar negotiations. But seeing it so plainly sort of underscores the idea that our politicians are basically ventriloquist dummies for their donor bases.

Then again, with Congress' recent track record, and its approval ratings, maybe this isn't such a bad idea. After all, when you can't do the job in-house, outsourcing makes a lot of sense.

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Jordan Weissmann is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic.

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