Oops, they're about to do it again.
The GOP's uncanny urge to undercut its own future is breathtaking. Widely displayed during the last presidential campaign, this penchant for self-harm has resurged in the wrangling over immigration reform.
A faction of the GOP is adamantly ignoring demographics, public opinion polls, the party's own consultants and common sense. Never mind that the party will never again win the White House without attracting more support from Latinos, African Americans and others with more hue to their skin tone. The ultraconservatives now rule the party, having honed fear-mongering and pandering to the uninformed down to a science — the only science they're good at.
After huddling behind closed doors for more than two hours, House GOP leaders emerged Wednesday intent on dismantling the much-anticipated comprehensive approach to rectifying the nation's flawed immigration system.
The group issued a statement about not trusting the Obama White House (as if anyone really needs a press release to learn of that sentiment), along with palaver about wanting to avoid broad measures and instead go "step-by-step."
That phrasing, which was backed by House Speaker John Boehner and other leaders, only thinly veils the true intent: to do exactly nothing.
A broad, comprehensive approach that addresses the many layers of problems within immigration is the only effective way to resolve them all. Addressing one problem to the exclusion of others in the mix simply doesn't work. And in some instances, the wrong tactic might exacerbate problems Congress claims it wants to address.
The economic and budgetary effects of the immigration reform bill the Senate approved last month with a vote of 68-32 is a good example. The Congressional Budget Office reported that if made law, the changes would be strongly positive. As the Atlantic summed up the CBO findings, the law would "increase real U.S. gross domestic product by 3.3 percent through 2023, and by about 5.4 percent through 2033. Meanwhile, it would cut our budget deficits by at least $875 billion over those two decades."
Yet the House GOP leaders have deemed the Senate package unacceptable. Why? Because it offers legality and eventual citizenship to some of the 11 million undocumented people in the country. People they've been vilifying for years to win votes.
Conservatives continue to preach a fondness for pressing for further militarization of the southern border first and foremost, if not as their only action. Expensive border security is part of the Senate bill, detracting from its expected positive economic impact, as a sop to Republicans.
But border security is also achieved through visa processes that allow for legal entry. The Senate bill provides ways to bring guest workers into the country, nimble approaches that react to economic needs, and also builds new protections for American workers. That's a comprehensive solution.
It's what should have happened in 1986, when Reagan signed an amnesty bill, but Congress failed to fix the inherent flaws in the system to allow more people a legal entry.
Those who see border control as a panacea need to remember that an estimated 40 percent of the nation's undocumented population initially arrived legally. They just never left. Nothing done at the border affects that number. But controls internally in the myriad of paperwork that encompasses immigration could.
The question now is whether the opportunity presented by the Senate bill will be allowed to wither. Chicago Rep. Luis Gutierrez is among those not willing to let it slip away, urging more reasonable bipartisan voices to step up. In a conference call with reporters Thursday, the day after the GOP made its stand, Gutierrez predicted that there are enough votes in the House to support legalizing some of the 11 million people currently undocumented. A vote on comprehensive, not piecemeal, reform must be allowed in the House.
Many Repubicans refuse to grasp that many people arrive in this country without the proper authorization because the current system makes it virtually impossible for them to come legally. Fix the system and you'd have fewer people illegally present. It's bad faith to harp about illegal immigrants and in the same breath refuse to offer them a legal option. (And then go to lunch to enjoy an entrée that was likely harvested, prepared and even served by undocumented workers.)
It's tempting for Democrats to take mocking solace in the thought that the GOP will reap the whirlwind of its obstinacy in future lost elections.
But that would be to overlook why immigration reform must be a priority for 2013. It is vital to our economic prosperity and national security, and it is the only just way to resolve the plight of families caught in legal limbo over residency rights. This issue affects everyone, regardless of political affiliation or even interest in the issue.
Putting off reform, or attempting to tackle only whatever aspect of it that a party finds to its advantage, will only exacerbate current problems.
Republicans need to accept that lesson, or they will bear the responsibility of prolonging the suffering of millions and undercutting the health and welfare of the nation.
Mary Sanchez is an opinion page columnist for The Kansas City Star. Her email is email@example.com.