George Will

Third, if any legislation is passed that contains any provision that can be stigmatized as ``amnesty,'' come November some of the Republican base, which is already boiling, will emigrate from the political process by not voting.

Fourth, if no immigration legislation is enacted, voters of various stripes may say, as voters said of congressional Democrats who were in disarray over a crime bill in the summer of 1994, these people cannot govern and should be given, like unruly 8-year-olds, a time out. The time out is now in its 12th year.

But if Congress fails to pass immigration reform, that will not really deserve to be called a failure, for two reasons. First, the moment may not be ripe for reform because the country is of two minds -- actually, more than two -- about the issue. Second, the system the Framers created, with two legislative bodies having different dynamics because their constituencies have different characteristics, is in this instance performing approximately as the Framers intended.

Senators, only one-third of whom are ever facing imminent elections, are somewhat insulated by six-year terms from the public's fevers. And senators represent larger, less homogenous, more complex constituencies than most House members do.

There is more to democracy than government by adding machine -- merely counting numbers. There also should be institutional ways of measuring, venting and accommodating the intensity of factions. The Senate does that by permitting filibusters. In the House, two-year terms guarantee that intensities are registered. As Rep. Gil Gutknecht, R-Minn., recently told The Washington Post, ``House members' elections are not periods with us, they're just commas. We keep our finger on the public pulse all the time, not just every six years.''

The House is supposed to be the barometer that measures the political weather of the moment. It is not failing to do that.

George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
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