The DREAM Act appears to be back on the table again, after failing to pass in the lame duck Congress that passed the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell and the New START Treaty. But will it pass? We think the answer is: doubtful.
The DREAM Act is a bill that appeals strongly to the Democratic base. That's why more uninformed liberals in the party might accuse the Senate rules or the Republicans of preventing its passage. But in fact, the DREAM Act failed by five votes in the last Congress. How many Democrats defected to vote against cloture? That's right: five. Sens. Ben Nelson, Kay Hagan, Max Baucus, Jon Tester, and Mark Pryor voted against, and Sen. Joe Manchin didn't even want to be in the chamber for the vote - citing a Christmas party as his excuse.
So, in a Congress with a smaller Democratic majority, we're unlikely to see passage. Furthermore, Republicans who did support the bill - Sens Richard Lugar, Lisa Murkowski, and Bob Bennett (Bennett lost his seat in 2010) - are under tremendous pressure from both the left and the right in a campaign cycle. Richard Lugar, a co-sponsor, recently backed away from his support under intense targeting by a right wing opponent and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. That's absolutely shameful, as Sen. Lugar's Democratic opponent is Joe Donnelly, who voted AGAINST the DREAM Act in the House.
Why is the DREAM Act on the table again if it can't pass? Well, we think no one is trying to pass the bill. The important thing for Democrats is to have the debate on the bill to illuminate positions during the campaign cycle. The White House may also have thought it was the best way to capitalize on the momentum from the death of Osama Bin Laden, because the idea of immigration as a security issue would have been harder than ever to stick to the President, thereby making opponents of the DREAM Act look like extreme bigots. This shows that Democrats are primarily targeting vulnerable moderate Republicans like Sen. Lugar by forcing them to defend their positions on the issue.
This pattern is unfortunate because Senator Richard Lugar is one of the best Senators in the business. But, that's just politics.