STEIN: No lame-duck DREAM Act

Last minute is wrong time for congressional fast track

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Normally, when someone has been fired from a job, he or she is required to pack up all belongings and vacate the premises by the end of the day. That person is no longer accountable and may no longer act in the best interests of the employer.

On Election Day, the American people issued pink slips to dozens of members of Congress and sent a clear vote of no-confidence in the party that has been in power for the past two years. But, because the mass firings do not take effect until noon on Jan. 3, defeated and retiring members of Congress remain on the job with essentially no accountability to their constituents.

The expiring 111th Congress has returned to complete unfinished housekeeping as it carries out its constitutional responsibility to fund the federal government and decide whether to extend tax cuts that are set to expire at the end of the year. For Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and soon-to-be House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, however, the lame-duck is a last-ditch opportunity to pass grandiose social policies far exceeding what might be considered essential functions.

Chief among the social legislation Mr. Reid and Mrs. Pelosi want the lame-duck Congress to act upon is a bill that would grant amnesty to millions of illegal aliens. The DREAM Act is a sweeping illegal-alien amnesty bill that proponents have been unable to pass ever since the proposal was introduced in 2000. A vote in the House may occur as early as Nov. 29.

Under the current version of the legislation, any illegal alien, regardless of his or her current age, who arrived in this country prior to age 16, would qualify for amnesty simply by enrolling in some educational program or the military. In addition to green cards, DREAM Act beneficiaries would be entitled to billions of dollars (which the federal government doesn’t have) in educational assistance programs and in-state tuition subsidies in whatever states they happen to reside.

While Mr. Reid attempted to attach the DREAM Act to the Defense Authorization bill in September (the effort failed because the Senate tabled the bill entirely), the House took no action on it during the previous 22 months. Mrs. Pelosi in particular recognized that amnesty for illegal aliens amounted to political poison for dozens of vulnerable House Democrats and shielded them from having to vote on yet another bill that was guaranteed to incense their constituents.

At least 56 House members - mostly Democrats - lost their bids for re-election or were defeated by primary challengers (with several races yet to be decided). An additional 37 House members voluntarily relinquished their seats. Thus, more than 20 percent of the members of the House who may be asked to vote on the DREAM Act during a lame-duck session will be the lamest of ducks themselves. In the Senate, at least 13 unaccountable lame ducks (with one race still to be decided) would be around to cast a vote on an unpopular and expensive illegal alien amnesty bill.

Technically, the outgoing members of Congress, including those who have been defeated at the polls, have the authority to pass legislation up to the very moment that their replacements are sworn in. What may be done and what should be done, however, are very different matters. In essence, what the outgoing leadership is attempting to do is take advantage of a state of constitutional limbo to enact a bill that has failed to win approval from Congress or the American public for the past 10 years.

The American people have rendered a decisive verdict on the 111th Congress. As their final act as a collective body, it is only fitting and proper that the members respect the decision of the American people, complete their essential business and allow the new Congress to address broad social policies, such as how best to deal with illegal immigration.

Dan Stein is president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

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