Here’s an update on that Republican effort to increase STEM graduate visas to foreign students at US colleges and universities. It was actually even more cynical than I thought. I knew that Republicans wrote the bill to take away one immigration visa from the Diversity Visa Program for every visa it added for STEM graduates (graduates in science, technology, engineering and math). I didn’t know that they put the bill on the suspension calendar. That means it required a two-thirds vote for passage. Democrats don’t support a zero-sum game on immigration visas, they just want more STEM graduate visas issued. So Democrats voted against the bill in large numbers, and instead of this just being opposition on passage, it killed the bill.

Republican leaders called the vote under a fast-track procedure that limits debate but also requires a two-thirds majority to pass. The final tally was 257 to 158, with all but a few Republicans joined by 30 Democrats in voting yes, well short of passage [...]

While Congressional Republicans have taken a hard line on illegal immigration, they said they wanted to show before the November elections that they were ready to pass a measure to fix a widely acknowledged flaw in the legal immigration system.

This is only true in the narrow sense of “wanted to show.” They in fact wanted the bill to fail, so they could point their finger at the Democrats for torpedoing a “common-sense approach” of ensuring that high-skill foreign students who graduate from US schools get to stay in the country to work. So they added their poison pill of killing the visa lottery program, and let Democrats do their work of killing the bill.

Matt Yglesias says this is why we can’t have nice things, and he’s right to an extent. He says that Democrats stopped the STEM graduate visa increase from happening when they had a Congressional majority by tying it to comprehensive immigration reform, and certainly they did so. But I don’t know that Republican Senators would have necessarily supported such a standalone bill; they certainly didn’t on the DREAM Act, which had lots of bipartisan support until Democrats created a standalone bill, and suddenly all that Republican support dried up.

It’s definitely true that Congress prefers posturing over solving even problems on which they agree. And that’s true on both sides of the aisle at different times. Most of the commentary from those working in the space, however, is that the Republican bill will actually move things forward eventually, perhaps in 2013, particularly if the White House shows its support. Silicon Valley is already behind it, so there’s lobbying muscle there. This looks like an early win for whoever becomes President. But for now, cynicism reigns.