In our opinion: Beyond Syria

Published: Monday, Sept. 16 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. right, arrive for their press conference before their meeting to discuss the ongoing crisis in Syria, in Geneva, Switzerland, Thursday Sept. 12, 2013. Secretary of State John Kerry and his team have opened two days of meetings with their Russian counterparts in Geneva. Kerry is hoping to come away with the outlines of a plan for securing and destroying vast stockpiles of Syrian chemical weapons.

Associated Press

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Syria continues to dominate the attention of the nation and the world, which is entirely appropriate, given the volatility of the situation in the Middle East. Yet as officials continue to weigh the various options available to them, they are unacceptably neglecting the rest of the nation's business.

Consider a recent article in the New York Times with the headline "Immigration Reform Falls to the Back of the Line." The story cites "the sudden debate over military action in Syria" as one of the principal reasons for neglecting to overhaul our country's broken immigration system, stating that immigration is "unlikely to come up for months." Opponents of reform seem to welcome the distraction as an opportunity to let reform efforts languish, in the hopes that a lengthy period of inaction will make it difficult to gather momentum when the subject is finally raised again.

This is the kind of cynical approach to governing that continues to erode public confidence in Washington.

Unfortunately, immigration is not the only issue being placed on the back burner during the Syria crisis. Once again, Congress faces an arbitrary predicament of its own making as it approaches the debt ceiling limit, and elected officials are doing little or nothing to prevent the country from hurtling toward another partisan showdown. Given the fact that recent budget battles have gone down to the wire, Congress ought to have learned from those debacles and made an effort to deal with the problem in advance. Of course, that would require Congress to be able to handle more than the singular focus of the day, which seems to be a task beyond its capacity.

It doesn't have to be this way.

Eliseo Medina, an advocate for immigration reform working on behalf of the Service Employees International Union, said of Congress that, "We believe they can walk and chew gum at the same time." He's exactly right. The legislative branch of government was designed to perform any number of weighty matters simultaneously, yet, of late, it seems content to lurch from crisis to crisis while ignoring the issues that aren't making headlines. This is not a process that benefits from careful, considered deliberation. Instead, it usually produces flawed and hurried "solutions" designed to placate whoever is yelling the loudest at any given moment. That simply doesn't work.

We're not asking Washington to neglect all the critical issues surrounding the Syria situation. Especially now, when the president seems open to negotiating a way around using military force, Congress needs to find a way to give him the leverage worthy of the world's sole superpower.

But we are asking them to do this and still attend to other weighty matters in a timely fashion.

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