It is not hyperbole to note that the Syria vote in Congress will be one of the biggest congressional votes in history. Our elected representatives will determine if America should adopt a foreign policy principle in which military force is used to prevent genocide, or if American foreign policy should adopt a foreign policy in which we refuse to engage militarily to resolve the conflicts of others without United Nations approval. Either path marks a dramatic shift from past policy, and could spark major global consequences.
And yet, we can’t let this decision force us to neglect all other domestic concerns.
Some domestic concerns we have no choice but to face: the government shuts down at the end of the month without new spending authorization. A default on our national debt will occur, threatening a global economic meltdown, without an increase in the debt limit sometime this fall.
But the Senate immigration reform bill could simply lie dormant.
The New York Times cites Republican congressional aides and reports that the House will delay action “until the end of the year, if not longer.” End of the year probably isn’t that big of a deal, but get too far into the next year and the midterm election season, the issue could simply fall off the calendar.
The risk of inaction exists regardless of the how the Syria vote goes. If military action is approved, attention may be hard to divide for some time. If military action is rejected, President Obama’s political capital may be obliterated, and House Republicans may believe there will be no repercussions to ducking.
But neither of those risks are preordained to become reality. For example, President George W. Bush won passage of his Medicare expansion to include prescription drug coverage eight months into the Iraq War. And if military action is rejected, political scientist Jonathan Bernstein reminds that “Presidents lose key votes which are then mostly forgotten all the time.”
No matter what happens in Syria, the key for immigration reform is constant pressure to remind Republicans that there will be political consequences for inaction. The fear of millions of Latinos peaceably assembled in the streets — like what happened in 2006 after Republicans tried to turn undocumented immigrants into felons — looms large in the minds of top Republicans. But if they think people aren’t paying attention, that fear dissipates.