Why a comprehensive approach is necessary for immigration bill--lessons from the Farm Bill

The fate of the Farm Bill that was passed in the House this week without the food stamps provisions (now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) is instructive on why the immigration bill should not be broken into pieces.  This week, the Republicans met in the basement of the capitol to huddle up about what to do about immigration.  Speaker Boehner heard from many members who aired their grievances against the Senate immigration bill.  He has already made clear that the House would not just take the Senate bill and vote on it.  The reason is the House is far more right leaning than even the bipartisan Senate compromise. 

The House Republican opposition to the immigration bill seems to center on several points.  First, many members oppose any form of a path to citizenship, saying it is rewarding lawbreakers.  Second, many Republicans object to the size of the bill, comparing it to Obamacare.  USA Today reports that one member said the following: "Comprehensive (immigration reform) has always been a swear word" for House Republicans, said Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho.  The article reported that Labrador believes "that the overwhelming consensus among the rank-and-file is to approve smaller pieces of legislation that deal with individual problems." Third, some members out of spite don't want to support the bill because Obama does

The Democrats should not agree to separating the bill into smaller pieces based on what happened this week to the Farm Bill.  With a bare majority, the House Republicans pushed through a Farm Bill that would aid corporate farming interests with subsidies and tax breaks while stripping out the food stamps provisions.  For decades, since 1939, the Farm Bill has included the agricultural subsidies with the SNAP provisions.  A New York Times editorial today explained why:

For decades, farm subsidies and food stamps have been combined for simple reasons of political expediency. Farm-state lawmakers went along with food stamps to keep the crop subsidies flowing; urban lawmakers did the reverse. The coalition may have been an uneasy one, and it cost the taxpayers untold billions in wasteful payments to growers, but that was the price for helping the hungry.


Now that coalition has been sundered, and the future of food stamps is threatened. If the program is not returned to the five-year farm bill, it will have to be financed through annual appropriations, which puts it at the mercy of the Republicans’ usual debt-ceiling stunts and government shutdown threats. House leaders said they would submit a food stamp bill “later,” but that will probably include the right wing’s savage cuts and unprecedented incentives for states to shut out poor families. Neither will get past the Senate or the White House.

Several reports, including this one by the New York times think the fate of the Farm Bill "bodes ill" for immigration. Ezra Klein concluded the opposite on June 21 (but that was before the Farm Bill was separated into two pieces.) At the time, Klein wrote:

The prospects of immigration have always relied on the theory that it’s a unicorn — that Republicans see a strategic need to pass it, or let it pass, that they don’t see for virtually anything else in government. Or, to put it differently, the idea is that immigration reform is an exception to the precise rules that doomed the farm bill. Whether that’s true remains to be seen. But the farm bill’s failure doesn’t prove it false.

Actually, I think the Farm Bill's failure does say something about the House. It says that the House is willing to, for pure showmanship,  pass a Farm Bill that strips out SNAP even though it will not get past the Senate and will be vetoed by the President. The "unicorness" of the bill Klein is referring to is that he thinks the House GOP members will realize immigration reform is necessary to the party's future viability, but the House is operating by a more narrow calculus which only considers the members short term goal of reelection in increasingly more conservative and white districts.  Democrats should insist on a comprehensive approach and vote down any bill that does not contain a path to citizenship.  It seems the only political way to get the legislation through.