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The Ensign Amendment Fiasco

By Ross Kaminsky

The Senate has by a 50-49 vote allowed a provision to remain in the Immigration Bill allowing illegal aliens to claim Social Security benefits. There is no way to sugar-coat what a disaster this is for Republicans and for the country.

Democrats had many reasons for voting against Senator Ensign's amendment, which was designed to insure that "persons who receive an adjustment of status under this bill (The Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006) are not able to receive Social Security benefits as a result of unlawful activity."

1. The Democrats are well aware that they can even further dishearten GOP voters by keeping provisions like this in the Immigration Bill. While the President tries to find a middle ground that Republicans can support, the inclusion of provisions which insult basic sensibilities of right and wrong, i.e. allowing a taxpayer-provided benefit for illegal behavior, makes that middle ground nothing but a mirage and further disunifies the Party.

2. The Democrats know that keeping provisions like this in the bill make a successful House-Senate conference that much more difficult to achieve and the passage of Immigration Reform is less likely. This gives them a great election issue, painting the Republicans as the party that can't get anything done. And who could say they are wrong?

3. The Democrats are in favor of anything that keeps more people addicted to government. In this case, the idea that millions of people would suddenly have claims on Social Security is a dream come true for them, second only to giving illegal aliens both claims on government funds and the right to vote for the politicians who promise to give them more of it.

4. On a similar note, if this provision becomes law, the future liability of the Social Security system will explode along with estimates of future budget deficits, allowing the Democrats to call the (Republican) Immigration Bill another example of GOP fiscal irresponsibility. And again, who could say they are wrong?

Senator Patrick Leahy demonstrated the standard (though still jaw-dropping) Democratic hypocrisy on the issue. Quoting from the Washington Times: Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, said it would be unfair to deny illegals the benefits. "We should not steal their funds or empty their Social Security accounts," he said. "That is not fair. It does not reward their hard work or their financial contributions. It violates the trust that underlies the Social Security Trust Fund."

I don't know whether to laugh or cry when I read such things, given the Democrats' primary purpose of spending every penny that comes in to the Treasury, including all Social Security taxes. The idea that senior politicians still claim there are real Social Security accounts or a solvent trust fund is both funny and frightening. However, the Democrats are at least consistent on this.

More disconcerting is the Republican participation in this travesty. The list of GOP Senators who voted against the Ensign Amendment includes some of the usual RINO (Republican in Name Only) suspects such as Chafee, DeWine, and Voinovich. More interesting was the rest of the list of Republican senators who opposed the amendment: Brownback, Hagel, Lugar, Stevens, Specter, and McCain.

At least three of these men have Presidential aspirations. I can not imagine that they believe the potential benefit from getting Hispanic or Democrat crossover votes would outweigh the tremendous damage to their support among the Republican base and the strength of the issue they would be handing primary opponents. Noting that the vote was 50-49, if any one of these Republicans had voted for the amendment, it would have passed. Given the apparent huge political miscalculation here, and assuming that these are not stupid men, I presume that I am missing something. But try as I might, when thinking about this vote, I keep coming up with "Error".

I can just picture the campaign commercial: A Hispanic-looking man walks up to a Social Security office window holding an identification document that the viewer can tell is a forgery. He asks for some money (from a window labeled "funded by American taxpayers") and when he is lightly questioned about his ID, he replies that it was good enough to get him a job so it should be good enough to get him some cash. The voice-over says "John McCain voted to do this to Social Security...."

The immigration issue was probably a neutral for the GOP until recently. Most Americans are not as aggressively anti-immigrant as the House of Representatives, so a middle ground on the issue that could be acceptable to most Republican voters was theoretically achievable. But as the Republicans continue to permit such things as Social Security benefits and in-state tuition rates for illegal aliens, any such common ground all but vanishes. The Republicans have maneuvered themselves into the worst possible position on immigration, with the Democrats politely helping out by doing nothing. Given the disheartening performance by the GOP in nearly every other area, and particularly with the massive increase in government spending while all branches of government were controlled by Republicans, it is increasingly likely that Republican voters will be too disgusted to go to the polls in November.

The Democrats offer nothing better. They truly are the Party of No Ideas. But when your opponent is beating himself with one strategic and tactical error after another, why take the risk of going on offense? Nancy Pelosi can picture herself sitting in the Speaker's chair soon, and she will hardly have had to break a sweat. She'll have to write a big thank you note to John McCain and friends.

Ross Kaminsky blogs at

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