"Without legislative language," Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy declared in a statement March 20, "there is nothing for the Judiciary Committee to consider this week at our markup."
The subject of the statement was immigration legislation, and his irritation was understandable.
"For months, I have urged the president to send his proposal for comprehensive immigration reform to the Senate," Leahy noted. He might have added that the White House, with access to the expertise and experience of the Justice and Homeland Security Departments, could easily have come up with a draft.
But the president is holding back, Leahy said, "at the request of a few senators who are engaged in secret, closed-door discussions" to prepare a bill they promised "by the beginning of March," a deadline that "has come and gone."
That was an acerbic reference to the "Gang of Eight," which well into April has still not delivered a specific proposal.
Leahy had good reason to gripe. Immigration legislation is immensely complicated, with many moving parts, with provisions that can have real-world consequences affecting millions of people.
Yet a week later, Leahy promised that his committee would consider whatever proposal the Gang of Eight produces "with all deliberate speed."
To Republican committee members' request for extended hearings, he decried "artificial delays, delays for delays' sake."
Now it is certainly true that opponents of legislation will try to stretch the process out until it is too late to act. But it is also true that rubber-stamping the first draft of a bill hundreds of pages long can produce a law rife with unintended and unhappy consequences (see Obamacare).
And it is certainly not true, as White House press secretary Jay Carney argued, that all the issues have already been aired out in the 2006 and 2007 debates on immigration legislation.
Many things have changed since then. We've gone through a recession and a period of sluggish economic growth. Net immigration from Mexico has at least temporarily stopped.
New methods of border control have been put in place but not fully assessed. Ditto for the e-Verify system for validation of legal status.
And it may be time to address broader questions. For instance, immigration law currently sets out quotas for countries. Country quotas originated in the 1924 immigration act. It limited the number of immigrants from each country according to the percentage of the population of that country's descendants in the 1890 Census.