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Wrong attitude

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The White House created quite a stir over the weekend when word was leaked that President Obama is preparing his own draft of immigration reform legislation much to the displeasure of Democrats and Republicans alike in Congress.

In its broad outline, the proposal is similar to the general principles guiding a bipartisan working Senate group, particularly in addressing the status of an estimated 11 million illegal aliens here now by creating a lengthy and conditional path to citizenship.

The White House plan would create a new visa that would allow illegal immigrants to live and work in the United States. They would be able to apply for a green card granting them legal permanent residency within eight years, although as a practical matter they would wait longer. An estimated 6 million immigrants are in line now waiting for their green cards.

Illegal immigrants would have to learn English and U.S. history and government, undergo a background check, and pay back taxes and other penalties. Those with a serious criminal record would not be eligible to stay. The bill would also include additional border security measures and will require employers to set up a system to verify the immigration status of new hires within four years.

Despite the similarities to congressional proposals, furious congressional Republicans denounced the president for presuming to craft legislation. Sen. Marco Rubio called the proposal “half-baked and seriously flawed.” It was also rejected as “counter-productive” and “dead on arrival.” Sen. John McCain questioned whether it was “another cudgel to beat up Republicans.” The two men are part of the Senate group working on a bipartisan proposal with Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer and others. Sen Schumer, an ally of President Obama, urged the administration to give them a chance to complete a bill, hopefully in March.

Responding to the criticism, a White House spokesman said they were only doing what President Obama had agreed to by giving Congress a chance to draft legislation with the White House plan intended as a back-up in case Congress failed to enact its own legislation.

It’s not likely that a White House bill would stand any better chance in Congress than a failed bipartisan congressional proposal. But many of the president’s critics have also faulted him for failing to take the leadership on other matters.

The White House rushed to assure senators that they did not leak details of the administration’s draft. However, congressional lawmakers cannot draft a bill in a vacuum without also considering what will pass presidential approval. Senate Democratic negotiators are in contact with the White House, as they should be. So why should the White House action raise such an uproar?

The flare-up is a reminder of what is wrong and another indication of the nation’s polarizing politics.

Rather than an institutional confrontation between the White House and Congress or between Republicans and President Obama, there ought to be a three-way conversation in the spirit of compromise, something there is not much of in Washington these days.

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