Friday, May 31, 2013

Is Lisa Murkowski Edging Toward the Gang of Eight?

This story from the Alaska Dispatch suggests that Senator Lisa Murkowski might be heading in that direction:
Murkowski said she supported the following: an immigration reform bill that provided a path for undocumented workers; a reform bill that reunites families; a bill that restores due process for individuals caught in the immigration system; and a bill that allows for guest worker programs and job opportunities for foreign, low-skilled workers.
She also was asked if she’d support a bill addressing the root problems of immigration; her answer wasn’t a straightforward affirmative. Addressing why people choose to migrate is difficult and likely will not be addressed in the current reform bill, she said.
“But Congress recognizes that people choose to come to America for opportunity, that their own countries’ economies are weak,” Murkowski said. “We’re looking to how we can make sure foreign economies are sound.”

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Common Core Challenges

In the Weekly Standard, Jamie Gass and Jim Stergios cast a skeptical eye on Common Core.  They note some of the centralizing tendencies of this initiative:
The Department of Education then made adopting Common Core a condition for waivers from the No Child Left Behind Act’s accountability provisions, even though the national standards have never been approved by Congress and are, in fact, expressly prohibited by the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which defined the federal government’s role in K-12 education, the 1970 General Education Provisions Act, and the 1979 law establishing the U.S. Department of Education.
It is worth reminding our friends who call it a conservative policy that Common Core would have been a bridge too far even for President Johnson, who signed the ESEA, and President Carter, who signed the law creating the federal Department of Education.  As syndicated columnist George Will wrote last year about the push for Common Core, “Here again laws are cobwebs. As government becomes bigger, it becomes more lawless.”
The problems with what is now federal policy are not lost on state and local leaders.  In just the past few weeks, Indiana lawmakers agreed to pause implementation of Common Core.  Ditto in Pennsylvania. Michigan’s House of Representatives voted to defund the effort.  And the national standards are under fire in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Utah.
Nationally, the Republican National Committee recently adopted an anti-Common Core resolution, but opposition is bipartisan.  Many Democrats are troubled that Common Core is not based on research and ignores too much of what we know about how students learn.  American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten recently told the Washington Post, “Common Core is in trouble … There is a serious backlash in lots of different ways, on the right and on the left.”
The backlash is richly deserved.  The Common Core standards are academically inferior to the standards they replaced in high performing states; and they ignore empirical lessons of how states like Massachusetts achieved historic successes.  Neither local leaders nor their constituents like having policies force fed by Washington, especially when the new requirements amount to a massive, and possibly illegal, unfunded mandate.  Common Core’s troubles are just beginning.

Getting to 60

Harry Reid has boasted that he would have an easy time getting to 60 votes for the Gang of Eight's immigration bill.  I raise some doubts about that ease here.  Hot Air has some more thoughts on this topic.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Bernie Sanders Really Critical of Guest Worker Programs

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, was no fan of guest-worker programs in 2007, and he still sounds pretty skeptical today.  In an interview with Dylan Matthews, he raised some serious doubts about the program:
My concerns are in regards to where we stand in terms of guest workers programs, made worse by amendments offered by Senator Hatch. What I do not support is, under the guise of immigrant reform, a process pushed by large corporations which results in more unemployment and lower wages for American workers.
As you well know, we remain in the midst of a severe recession. Real unemployment, once you consider people who’ve given up looking for work, is close to 14 percent, and in some parts of the country is even higher. For minorities it’s very high, and we’ve got to address that. You have massively high unemployment for young people, yet we’re talking about expanding visas so that young people from abroad can serve as life guards, become ski instructors, become front desk people, when young people in this country desperately need jobs to pay for a college education.
I am aware that there may well be certain high-skilled jobs in specific areas in high skilled technical industries that American companies are finding it hard to fill. I find it hard to understand that, when nine million people in this country have degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields, only about three million have jobs in these areas.
Furthermore, as someone who was led to believe that what economics was about was supply and demand, if you need workers in a certain area, you need to raise wages. I have a hard time understanding the notion that there’s a severe need for more workers from abroad when wages for these jobs rose only 4.5 percent between 2000 and 2011. You see stagnant wages for high skilled workers, when these companies tell you that they desperately need high skilled workers. Why not raise wages to attract those workers?
The bottom line is that I feel, very much, that a lot of the initiative behind these guest workers programs, a very large expansion of guest worker programs — H2B visas would go up to as many as 195,000, H1B to as many as 205,000 a year — is coming from large corporations who want cheap labor from abroad. Absolutely, there is a need for foreign labor. I recognize that in agriculture and certain areas in the high tech industry, you need foreign labor. But this is a massive effort to attract cheap labor, a great disservice to American workers.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Time Machine: Democrats on Guest Workers in 2007

In National Review, I look at what Democrats had to say about guest-worker programs back in 2007.  They weren't fond of them.  Here's what Senator Boxer (CA) had to say about them back then:
These large employers want a large, cheap labor pool that they can draw from. My colleagues on the other side say: Oh, we are protecting those workers. Oh, they will be fine. No, they will not be fine. How many workers do you know ever in the history of America who have to leave after two years and wait a year to come back to a program, leave after the next two years, come back, and by the way, how powerless are these workers, these temporary guest workers? They know if they say one thing to criticize, perhaps, a manager or to complain or to beg for a sick day because they have a sick child at home, when they know they have no power, everything rides on their being able to come back into the country because the employer says they can come back in. We are setting up a system of exploitation. We are setting up a system with this generalized guest worker program, a system that will put downward pressure on the American worker.
Will Senator Boxer and other Democrats now support an immigration bill that even more radically expands the US's guest-worker programs?

Read the rest here.

Reaganomics Revised

Robert Mundell, a Nobel laureate and significant figure in conservative economic policy development, has come to the conclusion that "free trade" isn't exactly free:
 In an interview on the fringes of the Astana Economic Forum in Kazakhstan, Mundell did not pull his punches. One of the chief architects of Reaganomics and a lifelong advocate of trade liberalization, Mundell now raises a large question mark over the continued viability of free trade. “The United States can’t keep a completely open system if the rest of the world is less open,” he said. “The United States may have to take a leaf out of the book of Japan, China, and Germany, and have protectionism inside the system.”
He explained that though he opposes tariffs (because they would send the wrong signal and thus invite retaliation), America may have to resort to less overt protectionist measures. One such tactic would be to adopt Buy American policies in government procurement (such covert protectionism is virtually universal elsewhere among America’s most significant trade partners).
Mundell  believes outsourcing has gone too far and that America’s formerly world-beating industrial corporations are in danger of losing their ability to manufacture. He commented: “It has been a mistake to let U.S. manufacturing run down so low. While other nations have industrial policies to maximize their trade benefits, the United States leaves itself open like a naked woman. A big problem is with nations that may prove to be future enemies.”
In a neomercantilist world, so-called "free trade" policies could simply empower the protectionism of other nations.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Not Quite a Fracture

The Hill suggests that the Gang of 8 "fractured" over the issue of whether to give newly-legalized immigrants access to the earned income tax credit:
Graham and Flake supported an amendment sponsored by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) to deny earned income tax credits (EITC) to people with Registered Provisional Immigrant Status (RPI).
An estimated 11 million illegal immigrants would gain RPI status under the immigration reform bill pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Schumer and Durbin voted no.
It failed on a party-line vote of 8 to 10.
“EITC is generally available to anyone who has a Social Security number and many are abusing that today we’ve discovered but as these RPIs are established and get a Social Security number, they will qualify it appears under the law for Earned Income Tax Credit,” Sessions said.
However, as Byron York reports, this might be less a real political fracture and more an orchestrated difference:
The situation was potentially embarrassing for Graham and Flake, who might not want to explain to their constituents that their bill gave federal benefits to newly-legalized immigrants. So it appears that the Gang had met and Democrats had given the two Republicans permission to support Sessions’ amendment. As the clerk was calling the roll for votes (at about 3:05 in the video), Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer, the de facto leader of the Gang, was heard turning to an aide and asking, “Do our Republicans have a pass on this one, if they want? Yes.”
They did indeed want. In a somewhat unusual show of Republican unity, Graham and Flake joined other Republicans to vote for the Sessions amendment. It didn’t matter — Democrats have a 10-to-8 majority on the committee and voted unanimously against Sessions’ amendment, meaning it was killed by a 10-to-8 margin. But the moment provided a glimpse of the degree to which Graham and Flake are working with Schumer in maneuvering the Gang of Eight bill through the Judiciary Committee.

Monday, May 20, 2013

No Scandal Is an Island

Some (e.g. Mickey Kaus) worry that the current obsession with scandals could undermine efforts to oppose the Gang of Eight bill.  Over at National Review, I raise some doubts about how much these scandals really will help the Gang's plans.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Scandals of the Day and Big Government

In National Review, I argue that conservatives should keep their eye on the bigger implications of the IRS and DOJ scandals:
Contemporary progressivism depends upon faith in bureaucracy: to collect data, to manage daily affairs on the local and national levels, and to serve as an impartial arbiter of fairness. Many of the major initiatives of the Obama presidency — from Obamacare to his expansion of executive authority to comprehensive immigration reform — demand this bureaucratic faith.
So every scandal that reveals a bureaucracy’s capacity for corruption deals a methodological wound to this centralizing enterprise. While the president might deride those who fear the subversion of a free republic into a less-than-free state, these sorts of scandals — whatever their outcomes — reveal that such fears are hardly misplaced. After all, we now know that federal tax-collection authorities systematically targeted opponents of the reigning ideology. We now know that federal agents could blithely monitor the phone calls of journalists. Those are not the figments of tea-party paranoia; as far as we can tell, they are facts.
The way it looks at the moment, there are two possible impulses behind these scandals: malice or incompetence. Neither one bears good tidings for bureaucratic progressivism.

You can read the rest here.

And Ed Morrissey makes some further points along these lines.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Pennsylvania: A GOP Keystone?

The Cook Political Report suggests that Pennsylvania could play a big role in the GOP's hopes for 2016:
The only blue states that have become less blue since 1998 are Iowa, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania.
Of the three, Pennsylvania is the biggest prize with 20 Electoral Votes.
The last time a Republican won the state was in 1988 when George H.W. Bush managed to eke out 50 percent of the vote in the Philadelphia market, and carried the rest of the state with 52 percent of the vote. Since then, however, Republicans have failed miserably in Philadelphia--which makes up 40-42 percent of the vote--and haven’t run up the score enough in the rest of the state to make up the difference.
In 2012, Obama carried the Philadelphia area by 63 percent, while Romney won the rest of the state by 55 percent. If Romney had gotten just 45 percent of the vote in Philadelphia--and still carried the rest of the state by 55 percent--he would have won the state. In other words, if a Republican could lose Philadelphia by the same percentage they win the rest of the state, they could turn the state red.
The Romney campaign spent $8.9M on broadcast TV in Nevada during the general election to get 46 percent of the vote. In Pennsylvania, the Romney campaign spent a paltry $2.4M and got 47 percent. In other words, Team Romney spent four times as much in Nevada as they did in Pennsylvania, to get essentially the same percentage of the vote. Now, imagine that the money invested in Pennsylvania came earlier--and more intensely. 
 With the right policy steps, Pennsylvania could have been in play in 2012.  It was very close with relatively little direct spending by the Romney campaign.  It is very possible that the Republican road to the White House is through the Rust Belt.  But putting this area in play might demand that the GOP rally around the message of middle-class and working-class uplift, industrial renewal, and a popular prosperity.

Many Republicans are sympathetic to the Gang of Eight immigration bill because they hope it will benefit the party electorally.  But the Gang of Eight's guest-worker provisions---the corporate giveaways and enshrining of a two-tier labor model---could undercut the outreach to workers needed to edge states like Pennsylvania into the GOP column.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Is What's Good for the Middle Class Good for the Economy?

I consider this question over at the Corner.

Medical Cost Release

The release of hospital expenditure data (and what federal reimbursement for these expenditures) seems like it could have significant effects on the evolving US debate about health-care policy.  The Washington Post notes the vast range in medical charges for the same procedure:
In the District, George Washington University’s average bill for a patient on a ventilator was $115,000, while Providence Hospital’s average charge for the same service was just under $53,000. For a lower joint replacement, George Washington University charged almost $69,000 compared with Sibley Memorial Hospital’s average of just under $30,000.
Virginia’s highest average rate for a lower limb replacement was at CJW Medical Center in Richmond, more than $117,000, compared with Winchester Medical Center charging $25,600 per procedure. CJW charged more than $38,000 for esophagitis and gastrointestinal conditions, while Carilion Tazewell Community Hospital averaged $8,100 in those cases.
 The lack of price transparency has probably been a major challenge for getting more market-oriented reforms.

The Battle over Heritage

While many in the media are focusing on the personal views of one of the authors of the Heritage report on the Gang of Eight bill, David Frum wonders why the evidence of this report is not gathering nearly as much media attention:
Sorry, no. If you agree with the Heritage study - and so far I have not heard any good reason to doubt it - the results are so important and explosive that the coauthor's other views dwindle into a mere footnote to history. It's not some personal quirk of Jason Richwine's that has caused him to doubt that the legalized immigrants will rapidly raise their skill levels or education standards. 
Some in the media could also perhaps bear to spend a little more time analyzing the various provisions of the bill itself---rather than the biographies of its critics.

Monday, May 6, 2013

A Few Immigration Points

A fairly big news day for the immigration bill, so a slight round-up might be in order.

Heritage has released its controversial report estimating the cost of a mass legalization.  It's worth noting that government costs are not the only reason to be skeptical about the bill.

Yuval Levin suggests some ways to improve the Gang of 8 bill.

Bill Kristol thinks the House should support piecemeal reform.

The NYT reports on opposition to the bill.

Guest Problems

In National Review, I explore the Gang of Eight's guest-worker plans and suggest how they might be problematic for the GOP:
The vast majority of media attention on the Gang of Eight’s immigration bill has focused on three aspects: the legalization of illegal immigrants, the promise of future enforcement (and to what degree that promise will be broken), and the political fallout of the bill and debates about it. However, the Gang of Eight bill also makes far-reaching reforms to other aspects of the immigration system. Under the proposed bill, the nation’s guest-worker programs would be considerably expanded — and this expansion has major implications for the nation as a whole, especially its workers. This guest-worker program could have three big outcomes: bigger government, bigger downward pressure on wages, and bigger problems for the GOP and the future of conservative principles.

Under this bill, the three principal guest-worker programs would be agricultural, low-skilled labor, and high-skilled labor. According to Jessica Vaughan of the Center for Immigration Studies, the U.S. already issues 700,000 guest-worker visas a year. Some of these visa-holders work in the U.S. for a short period of time, but others can stay for much longer. The Gang of Eight bill significantly increases the number of guest-worker visas. The annual cap on H-1B visas — meant for “high-skill” guest workers, especially those in technical fields — would immediately jump from 65,000 to 110,000. This new cap would be the floor for H-1B visa numbers in the future, and it would have the potential to rise in further years, all the way up to 180,000.
 Read the rest here.

Friday, May 3, 2013

It's the Middle Class

Byron York notes what really harmed Governor Romney's electoral chances in November:
Romney lost because he did not appeal to the millions of Americans who have seen their standard of living decline over the past decades. They're nervous about the future. When Romney did not address their concerns, they either voted for Obama or didn't vote at all. If the next Republican candidate can address their concerns effectively, he will win. And, amazingly enough, he'll win a lot more Hispanic votes in the process. A lot from other groups, too.

It would do more than any immigration bill or outreach program ever could.