- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 27, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

In the wake of embarrassing losses in special elections for congressional seats in Illinois, Louisiana and Mississippi, the House Republican Party leadership has had several miserable weeks. The party’s conservative base base is justifiably angry over the fact that the party appears to have no coherent strategy for the fall elections and refuses to deal forthrightly with issues such as earmarks and atrocious measures like the farm bill. The party seems to lurch from crisis to crisis and personal scandal to personal scandal, and faces the prospect of massive losses of seats in the fall. The only way to arrest the pattern of decline is to seriously challenge the liberal Democratic leadership on matters of principal.

That means reaching out to the 40-member Blue Dog Coalition of relatively moderate Democrats and working across the aisle to affect real change. But it also means directly challenging the Blue Dogs when they put the political interests of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and open-borders ideologues over the interests of their own constituents. When it comes to the SAVE Act (H.R. 4088), an enforcement-only approach to the illegal-immigration issue, the latter plan of action is clearly in order. The SAVE Act aims to reduce illegal immigration through such methods as employer sanctions and strengthened border enforcement. The bill, introduced by Reps. Brian Bilbray, California Republican, and Heath Shuler, North Carolina Democrat, has 164 cosponsors, and Mrs. Pelosi wants no part of the legislation. So the San Francisco Democrat has arranged to have various parts of the bill bottled up in places like the House Judiciary Committee, hoping to make sure that it would never see the light of day.

But Mr. Bilbray and Mr. Shuler have launched a campaign to circumvent the obstructionists by getting 218 signatures on a discharge petition that would permit the legislation to come to the House floor for a vote - regardless of what the speaker wants. The congressmen need 218 signatures on their petition; right now, they have 188. Only 10 of those 188 signers are Democrats, and they run the risk of retaliation from the Democratic Party leadership. The Republican Party leadership in the House is on the right side of this issue, and lawmakers like Minority Leader John Boehner, Minority Whip Roy Blunt and Deputy Whip Eric Cantor have all signed the discharge petition. That’s good, as far as it goes.

But signing a discharge petition is not enough. With Congress scheduled to return to Washington next week, it’s past time for the House Republican leadership to challenge their Democratic counterparts. By all means, they should challenge Mrs. Pelosi and the rest of the House Democratic leadership. But it is even more critical to make a major, public issue of the behavior of the Blue Dogs - approximately 30 of whom have cosponsored the SAVE Act but refused to sign the discharge petition under pressure from their own party leadership. That doesn’t mean behaving disrespectfully. It does mean launching a public campaign explaining the differences between House Republicans and the House Democratic leadership on the issue of illegal immigration and putting pressure on the Blue Dogs to choose sides.

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