Football fans call it "taking points off the board" -- giving up a sure-thing field goal in hope of a "maybe" touchdown.
I don't know what they call it in Congress, but we've got a good example before us this week.
America's immigration policy is in need of serious revamping, and the Simpson-Mazzoli omnibus immigration bill now pending represents a major step toward that reform. That is the hoped-for touchdown.
There is an aspect of immigration policy that deserves this country's special attention: the status of the children of Asian mothers and American servicemen. That is the chip-shot field goal, such a sure thing that's it's practically on the scoreboard already.
Or it could be if it gets to the House floor this week.
The Amerasian legislation, largely the work of Rep. Stewart McKinney (R- Conn.), has 273 cosponsors in the House, making passage there a virtual certainty. Passage looks almost equally certain in the Senate, and key legislators on both sides are already agreed on how to work out the differences in the two versions in House-Senate conference. Speaker Tip O'Neill wants the bill brought to the floor; three months ago, he talked Judiciary Committee Chairman Peter Rodino into a promise to bring it up.
But the subcommittee on immigration is headed by Rep. Romano Mazzoli (D-Ky.), a principal author of the omnibus bill, which includes an Amerasian section. The word is that Mazzoli is reluctant to report out the separate Amerasian bill for fear that removing that piece would doom his already-controversial omnibus bill.
Backers of the McKinney proposal have no interest in killing the Mazzoli- Simpson bill. Their fear is that an all-out effort to save the omnibus bill will, if it fails, also doom the easily passable Amerasian bill.
And the omnibus bill has a good chance of failing. Judiciary staffers note that with less than a week to go before adjournment, no report has been written on the bill. That is supposed to happen tomorrow, they say, after which the measure would go to the Rules Committee and then be put on the calendar for debate. Then it would have to survive arguments over amnesty for certain illegal aliens, identification cards for employment, special provisions for families of amnestied illegals, and so on. Final passage before week's end is a long shot at best.
The McKinney bill, on the other hand, is a natural. The work has been done, the controversies eliminated and votes lined up. The administration supports it. Indeed, five of the seven members of Mazzoli's subcommittee, not to mention more than half of the full Judiciary Committee, are cosponsors of the McKinney measure.
But unless the legislation passes this week, it's back to Square 1 next term. At best, that means repeating much of the work that has been done, and it means, for the Asian-born children of American GIs, at least another year of degradation and squalor in a land that refuses to accept them as full human beings.
Why wait? All it takes is for Rodino and Mazzoli to agree not to take the points off the board. They can go for the touchdown next time.