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The acid test for the GOP's ability to govern: immigration reform

October 28, 2013|By Michael Hiltzik
  • Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is in a box of his own making on immigration reform.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is in a box of his own making on immigration reform. (Andrew Burton / AFP/Getty…)

You know a bill is in trouble in Congress when its opponents come up with increasingly infantile reasons for killing it. That's the coming fate of immigration reform in Washington. To hear House Republicans talk, it's worth killing because (a) passing it would give President Obama a victory when he's already had too many, (b) he's just using it to hurt the GOP, (c) it may or may not, but probably will, lead to "amnesty," and (d) Obama wants it to happen.

Yes, obviously a, b, and d are basically the same thing, but the point is that a tolerably powerful cadre of House Republicans don't want immigration reform to happen. Although a major lobbying push for immigration reform by business leaders (Mark Zuckerberg, Michael Bloomberg, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce) and religious and law enforcement groups is beginning this week, the talk on Capitol Hill is that reform is dead for this year.

The disarray among Congressional Republicans is visible. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who actually helped draft the Senate immigration compromise that is now before the House, has advised his House counterparts to reject it. A bill's sponsor lobbying for its defeat happens about as often as a disputed interference call ends a World Series game. Meanwhile Rep. Jeff Denham, who represents a heavily Latino district near Modesto, has made peace with his Democratic colleagues to push passage of the Senate bill.

In a sane political atmosphere, passing the Senate immigration bill would be a no-brainer on both sides of the aisle. The Congressional Budget Office says it would increase employment, boost capital investment, raise the relative wages of people now working in the underground economy, improve the productivity of labor and productivity. The bill would reduce the federal deficit, according to the CBO, by about $175 billion through 2023, and by another $700 billion from 2023 through 2033.

Among the more intriguing features of the partisan discussion is the feeling of some Republicans that there's no gain for them in promoting immigration reform. All the talk of Latino outreach after the 2012 election seems to have given way to a feeling that the GOP won't get the Latino vote no matter what, so why bother? Leaving aside the good that reform will do for the country as a whole, there's a big difference between topping out at, say, 27% of the Latino vote (Mitt Romney's share) and being mired at less than 10%, which is where they may end up if they kill the immigration bill.

It shouldn't be forgotten that the Senate bill itself is a compromise that made the prospect of citizenship a mirage for millions of immigrants already in the country illegally. It would take at least 13 years to gain citizenship, and then only after paying thousands of dollars in fines and fees. In the meantime, they would be ineligible for federal relief or healthcare subsidies. Immigration advocates gave up a lot to get even that far, but the House has demanded even stricter rules.

So immigration reform gives us a larger economy. More jobs. Better pay. Less abuse of workers without means of recourse. Lower federal deficits. 

What's not to like? Oh, yes. it would give the Democrats a victory. It sounds like some people won't go for immigration reform under any circumstances. That's the new paradigm of governing in Washington: Just say no.

Tell me whether you think Congress finally should pass an immigration reform bill.

Reach me at @hiltzikm on Twitter, on Facebook or by email.


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