Will Lugar Kill the Democratic DREAM?

| Tue Dec. 7, 2010 12:00 PM EST

The DREAM Act never stood much of a chance in this lame-duck Congress. Now things look even worse: The bill's staunchest champions are wavering, and the DREAM Act looks like it's in the dustbin even before it's hit the floor. Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.)—a co-sponsor of many iterations of the DREAM Act—had for months been the lone Republican who's vowed to support the bill, which would provide a pathway to legalization for young immigrants. Lugar's support gave Democrats hope that other moderate Republicans might come on board, and his position helped convince outgoing Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) to pledge support. But Politico reports that even Lugar is now reconsidering:

Support from Indiana Sen. Dick Lugar, who co-sponsored a version of the bill as recently as September, is now uncertain, with his spokesman saying the senator "doesn’t like the political games being played" and is exploring his options.

Sound familiar? It's the same rationale that Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) gave for dropping out of the climate-change negotiations with Democrats in the spring, when partisan polarization had reached a new high after the passage of health-care reform. Having once fashioned himself as a party-bucking maverick, Graham has largely refused to cross party lines to work with the Democrats since. In recent months, Lugar has stepped into that role, leaving liberals hopeful that Democrats might still have a GOP ally. If Lugar abandons DREAM, it will certainly dampen those hopes. And it could make even incremental reform on immigration far more difficult if DREAM fails with more "no" votes than ever before.

That being said, Lugar could also be trying to perform political triage, saving up his capital to make a big push for the new START treaty, which has a significantly better chance of passing than the DREAM Act. The Republican was bullish about START's passage on Sunday, but the treaty still needs more GOP support before it can pass. Lugar might not be willing to stir up the enmity of his Republican colleagues by defying his party on a separate bill that looks bound to fail anyway.