Hearing Loss
Fri July 7, 2006 2:27 pm

If you really want to know how dysfunctional Congress is, I recommend attending a field hearing, in which lawmakers venture out of the safety of the Beltway and into the political wilds of America. I'm in Laredo today for a meeting of the House International Relations Committee's subcommittee on International Terrorism and Proliferation. Babe in the woods that I am about the ways of Washington, I naively expected the hearing to focus on the topic displayed on a signboard in the lobby: "Comprehensive Immigration Reform." But the discussion wasn't comprehensive, it had little to do with immigration, and it certainly didn't deal with reform.

What was it about, then? Poly-ticks. House Republicans were trying to drum up support for their something- there-is-that-loves-a-wall immigration bill against an alternative bill backed by their arch foes. That would be the Senate Republicans, of course. The Republicans from Texas wanted the Border Patrol to put more manpower and technology to work out of state, but the real problem, said Henry Bonilla, a Republican from San Antonio who also represents part of Laredo, is, "We are at war with the executive branch down here." (He's presumably referring to the White House's lack of support.)

The out-of-state Republicans, including subcommittee chair Ed Royce, of California, tried to portray immigration as a terrorism issue; there was anecdotal testimony about Sudanese currency that was found by a rancher and about criminals from drug cartels who are getting even more brazen about crossing the river with automatic weapons.

The Democrats, naturally, couldn't resist taking their own shots. Charlie Gonzalez, of San Antonio, accused Republicans of "delaying progress on securing our nation's border in the hopes that using immigration to inflame Americans will allow them to retain control of the House; two other Democrats added zingers of their own.

There was no serious discussion of immigration policy, which is not surprising, since the House passed its version of the bill long ago. It takes Congress to make the Texas Legislature look good.

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