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The key number from the much-blogged CBO report on S. 744 is not $197 billion or $700 billion but 25%: that's how effective the CBO predicts the Gang of Eight bill will be in blocking future illegal immigration:
However, other aspects of the bill would probably increase the number of unauthorized residents—in particular, people overstaying their visas issued under the new programs for temporary workers. CBO estimates that, under the bill, the net annual flow of unauthorized residents would decrease by about 25 percent relative to what would occur under current law...So the guest-worker programs could, as some have suggested, increase the number of potential illegal immigrants.
And I thought Senator Schumer said that the Gang of Eight bill would end illegal immigration! This finding complicates the efforts of the Gang of Eight to use this report as a political document. If this CBO estimate is true, it utterly vitiates the central premise of the Gang of Eight: that this trade of legalization for enforcement is acceptable because it really will be the last one. The "deal" of S.744 is that it solves the problem of illegal immigration. CBO says it won't. That seems kind of important. (Meanwhile, Texas is experiencing a surge of illegal border crossings.)
Many sympathetic to S. 744 are trumpeting CBO's projection of savings over the short term, but this report has some other economic/budgetary findings, too.
CBO thinks that legalized individuals will gain access to some federal benefits prior to receiving citizenship: "If S. 744 was enacted, executive branch agencies would probably face pressure from states and other stakeholders to provide people who are lawfully present in the United States with the federal benefits that are available to qualified aliens, including assistance provided through Medicaid, CHIP, SNAP, student loans, and Pell grants."
The CBO's 10/20-year window allows it to miss the effects on Social Security/Medicare spending. But there is a tantalizing hint: in 2014-2023, it estimates that SS/Medicare spending will go up $4 bill because of S. 744---by 2024-2033, it will have increased this spending by $70 billion.
What also has not gotten much press so far is another report the CBO put out on the economic effects of S. 744. There, the news is slightly more pessimistic over the next ten years. Some key tidbits: "Relative to what would occur under current law, S. 744 would lower per capita GNP by 0.7 percent in 2023" and "CBO’s central estimates also show that average wages for the entire labor force would be 0.1 percent lower in 2023." CBO estimates that those at the bottom of the economic ladder would see the greatest wage pressure over the next ten years. CBO estimates that, 20 years from now, S. 744 will make the average American wealthier, but that's a pretty long economic forecast.
There are reasons to be skeptical about the validity of CBO projections. As Hot Air's AllahPundit wrote, "CBO scores may be near-worthless as predictive devices, but as political capital they’re very valuable. Remember how excited Democrats were when CBO initially scored ObamaCare as reducing the deficit by $140 billion between 2013 and 2019? A year later, CBO adjusted that downward to $95 billion. A year after that, they adjusted it downward again to … $4 billion."
The timeline on the Senate bill is getting crunched. Reid may file for cloture within a few days. Byron York thinks it's because Reid fears falling support for this measure.
Along those lines, I look at a poll showing a thin margin of support for the Gang's bill at the Corner:
Overall, enforcement beats the path to citizenship 62 percent to 36. Independents support enforcement over legalization 65–33; even Democrats only back legalization over enforcement by a single point (50–49), so it is very likely that a majority of Democrats in more conservative-leaning states (e.g., Indiana, Montana, and West Virginia) back enforcement over legalization. Interestingly, support for security over the pathway to citizenship is highest in the Midwest (65–34), a place the GOP will need to lock down to restore its presidential chances, and the Northeast (66–34), where Republicans have been decimated and need to rebuild.
SHORT OF A PROMISE: Earlier on Tuesday, Jonathan Strong hinted that Speaker Boehner may not apply the Hastert rule to any vote on a House-Senate conference bill on immigration:
At a press conference following the GOP meeting, Boehner said he “suggested to our members today that any immigration-reform bill that is going to go into law ought to have a majority of both parties’ support if we’re serious about making that happen. So I don’t see any way of bringing an immigration bill to the floor that doesn’t have the majority support of Republicans.”Later on Tuesday, a Boehner aide clarified this remark to Strong in order to suggest that something like the Hastert rule could apply to the conference report, too. But Strong sounds a little doubtful: "Boehner said that the immigration bill 'ought to' enjoy the support of a majority of the GOP conference. It’s strong language but short of a promise."
When I asked him if the commitment to garnering the support of a majority of Republicans extended to any conference report on immigration, Boehner said, “We’ll see when we get there.”
Chuck Schumer's team still holds out hope that Boehner will violate the Hastert rule. Brian Fallon, Schumer's communications director tweeted, "FLASHBACK: Boehner also boasted he wouldn't pass fiscal cliff w/o majority of GOP. Then he did anyway http://bit.ly/10qjGyO " and "Unlike w/other bills when Boehner violated Hastert rule, his leadership team- Cantor, McCarthy, Ryan-supports
Many on the left seem to think that Boehner could very easily break Hastert in order to push a "comprehensive" bill: see Greg Sargent on why he thinks Boehner is bluffing here. Harry Reid seems confident that Boehner will budge, too.
David Drucker of the Washington Examiner, who has pretty solid sources and is a keen Hill watcher, thinks that Boehner probably will apply Hastert to both any initial House immigration bill and a conference report on an immigration bill. As he wrote in an email, "I can't imagine [Boehner] backs a strong GOP bill in House and lets it get gutted in Conference and then runs a bill that only gets supported by less than half of his Republicans."
LOOKING FOR A MAJORITY: Is Boehner hoping to get enough of his caucus to go along with the Gang of Eight? Chris Frates wonders:
As a senior GOP leadership aide put it, “Our conference is all over the place. Our goal here is to try and find that little slice of land where we can walk through and we’re not crucified on either side.”(Also on Tuesday: a House immigration enforcement measure made it through a day of mark-up...)
Republicans on and off the Hill say Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy all want to do something on immigration. Boehner “really wants to get that done but he has to be real quiet about it because if he puts his name on it and his brand on it, like he did with the big (fiscal-cliff) deal, then it’s probably going to die under its own weight,” a former GOP leadership aide said.
So House leaders have been meeting privately with members, making the case that inaction on immigration will be more costly than doing something. Weeks into the debate, it remains a hard sell among reform opponents, particularly members who do not want to offer citizenship to people here illegally. They worry that any House legislation—such as a tough border-security bill most of them are after—will ultimately be watered down in negotiations with the Senate.
“What will have to happen, and is happening in private discussions, is that we have to convince these guys if we’re going to go to conference, we’re not going to cave on our principles,” a senior House GOP aide said. “That is the sales job you have to make to those guys.”
The Danged Fence: Thune's fence amendment (which would have required that some border fencing be put in place before legalization) failed 39-54. The Gang stood unified against this measure. (And Arizona's voters in 2010 thought Sen. McCain wanted to complete that danged fence!) R's against (in addition to Gang): Ayotte and Murkowski. D's for: Manchin and Pryor. Interesting votes: Collins and Kirk voting for the fence.
Improved Visa Enforcement: Vitter's amendment to demand a visa-tracking system be in place before legalization failed 36-58. Again, the Gang opposed. Other non-Gang R's opposed: Ayotte, Collins, and Murkowski. D's in favor: Pryor.
TAKEAWAY: The Gang won't let any amendment pass that makes legalization dependent upon enforcement. The legalization must be unequivocal. Could the continued failure of pro-enforcement amendments signal to some undecideds that the Gang will never agree to any amendment that really increases the enforcement profile of this bill?
ELSEWHERE ON THE WEB: Andrew Stiles wonders where Ted Cruz is....TNR's Isaac Chotiner warns Rubio and Republicans that the hope of taking immigration "off the table" is going to be disappointed....Philip Klein: CBO says S. 744 will expand Obamacare....Laura Ingraham: Why is Rep. Sam Johnson
Hammer-ready (Have indicated they’ll vote for Schumer-Rubio)
Ayotte (who was spectacularly ignorant of the bill’s provisions)
Begich (already getting testy!)
Landrieu (do it for North Dakota!)
Murkowski (voted against border fence)
Persuadable (Still wavering)