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What the Farm Bill says about immigration in the House

Today’s big surprise in Congress was a defeat on the floor of the House for a new farm bill, with 62 Republicans voting against it and support from only 24 Democrats.

Farm bills are usually fairly bipartisan projects; over in the Senate, Republicans split fairly evenly on that version of the bill. But in the current House, everything is partisan, yet Republicans are not united.

And that’s the problem not just for this bill, but for pretty much every bill. It’s why I’ve been very skeptical about Republican plans to get to conference on immigration by passing a House version and then reaching an eventual compromise in conference.

It’s very simple: If they go for a partisan bill, it’s not going to get Democratic votes and it will likely lose Republican votes, too, either from moderates who think it’s too conservative or from radicals who think it’s not conservative enough — or from both. And if they go for a bipartisan bill, well, if it has citizenship, it’s not going to get a lot of Republicans, and that means Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) would have to bring it up only to pass it with mostly Democratic votes. At which point it’s not clear why there’s any advantage to doing a separate bill; if they’re going to go that route, they might as well just pass the Senate bill.

Sure, it’s possible that Republicans can manage to hang together for one vote to get something to conference — perhaps more possible if they have decided they don’t want anything to ultimately pass, and so they may decide that the content is less important than the blame-shifting advantage they would (perhaps) have if they can say they passed a something.

But overall, going along to get along — or “Do it to save our party from humiliating embarrassment” — doesn’t seem to carry much weight with most House Republicans.

Again, I have no idea whether most House mainstream conservatives would rather have a bill (because they believe in the demographic panic for the GOP that some tout) or no bill (because they’re afraid of anti-immigration primary voters). But the idea that there is some other vehicle beyond letting the Senate bill pass with mostly Democratic votes — well, I’ll believe it when I see it.