With dizzying speed this week, immigration advocates went from gloomy to galvanized with the announcement that Senator Reid intended to bring the DREAM Act to the floor as an amendment to the Defense Authorization bill. To further add to the euphoria, Senator Menendez announced that he would introduce actual comprehensive immigration reform legislation sometime soon. President Obama made another speech in support of DREAM and broad reform, and met privately with Congressional Hispanic Caucus leaders to seal the deal on DREAM support. Congressman Luis Gutierrez, who has been bluntly critical at times of the President’s actions on immigration, appeared delighted with the outcome:

“I think the White House, the Democrats, and the allies that support serious immigration reform are going on offense and the President is our quarterback,” Rep. Gutierrez said after the White House meeting Thursday. “I have been pushing hard to get us all pointing in the same direction on this issue and now with the White House standing with us and the Senate poised to act, I think we are seeing that effort begin to bear fruit.”

For a political movement starved for actual action, all this activity was like a shot of adrenaline. The well-organized coalition of DREAM activists quickly got themselves ready to march, pray, call, fax, and influence Congress in every way possible. And immigration restrictionists sent out numerous action alerts predicting both doom and collapse should the DREAM Act pass, but also trotting out the familiar epithet of amnesty in order to rally their forces as well.

Let’s hope they both get to have their fight. The intricacies of contemporary Senate procedure are such that there is still a long way to go before DREAM (as well as an amendment repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell) get a vote on the floor. First, the Senate has to vote for cloture on the motion to proceed to the bill, which translates into agreeing to end debate over whether or not to take up the bill. It used to be that this wasn’t much of an issue—by unanimous consent the Senators could agree to go directly to debate on a bill. In fact, in a rare bipartisan move, the Small Business bill which passed the Senate this week got to the floor by unanimous consent. Don’t count on that kind of consensus for the defense bill, however.

Republicans have vowed to block the bill, and thus a cloture vote will be necessary simply to get the bill to the floor. Only if Senator Reid can get 60 votes on his cloture motion—which is in doubt, many think—will the Senate even start debating the bill and accepting amendments on it. Senator Reid said yesterday that they would not finish debate on the bill until after the November election which, no matter what happens on DREAM Act, means that we won’t know for sure until late November or early December whether a successful vote on DREAM Act will translate into an actual law (and of course it has to get through the House as well).

But right now the battle is simply to get the defense bill to the floor. If the motion to proceed to debate fails next Tuesday, it’s back to the drawing board.

The vote next week shouldn’t fail, however, because all of the objections are essentially about style not substance. In this case, procedural wrangling keeps people from actually debating the merits of an issue, which means you don’t have to explain why you are opposed to helping students who could help this country become better. If you object to bringing the bill to the floor on the principle that you think the Senate leader is using it to score political points, you get to sound principled yourself without actually explaining to anyone why you oppose the DREAM Act or anything else.

One of the chief objections voiced by Republicans for keeping the defense bill off the floor is that Senator Reid is playing politics with our national security by adding controversial and irrelevant amendments to what Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says should be a simple vote. And Senator McCain said the amendment is a “pure political act for Harry Reid, who is worried about his own re-election.” The folks working on the repeal of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell provision take issue with that characterization, throwing the idea of playing politics right back at the GOP, accusing Senator McCain of “playing politics with the lives of men and women in uniform.”

At some point, it just gets tiresome to hear everyone talking about playing politics. After all, this is politics, isn’t it?

The truth is, there are no simple votes, particularly in the 111th Congress, which will long be remembered for its bitter partisan squabbles that led, especially in the Senate, to political gridlock.

The truth is, good policy is rarely enough to motivate a vote on a controversial issue. If that were the case, Senator Reid wouldn’t have to maneuver like crazy just get important issues like immigration reform and fair treatment for the LGBTQ in the military onto the floor of the Senate.

And the truth is that, of course, this is political. The upcoming elections are a real incentive for showing voters where you stand. And generally, we only know where a politician stands when they actually have to vote on something.

So for once, it would be nice if the Senate could actually get to the heart of an immigration matter, debating it on its merits, rather than its procedural purity. Senators should be brave enough to take the issues up for their own sake rather than hide behind the increasingly oppressive use of the cloture vote, which seems to be the ultimate act of playing politics in the Senate.

Photo by jessejameswood.