Wednesday, April 17, 2013

"Bipartisan" bill now on the table

Norquist goes to water

President Barack Obama on Tuesday embraced a sweeping overhaul of the nation's immigration system put forward by a bipartisan group of senators, saying it was "largely consistent" with his own principles for immigration reform.

Obama, who had said previously that he would submit his own bill if not satisfied with the Senate proposal, urged Congress to "quickly move" the bill forward and that he was "willing to do whatever it takes" to help.

The Democratic president spoke after meeting with two of the measure's chief sponsors, Senators John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, and Charles Schumer, a Democrat from New York.

The bipartisan support for the bill and the president's endorsement of it improves its chances of passage but by no means ensures it.

The four Democrats and four Republicans sponsoring the measure indicated on Tuesday they were preparing for a months-long battle over the bill, with the greatest challenge expected in the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives.

Some of that opposition surfaced Tuesday, even though many House members, including the Republican leadership, resolved to stay silent for the day because of the Boston Marathon bombing on Monday.

Republican Representative Lamar Smith of Texas slammed the Senators' plan and said it would encourage even more illegal immigration, favor foreign workers and treat illegal immigrants better than those who have played by the rules.

McCain, who lost the 2008 presidential election to Obama, warned that the defeat of any one of the key provisions of the complex legislation could jeopardize the whole effort.

He told reporters that it was "carefully crafted" to keep Republicans, Democrats and different interest groups on board and that if "certain things" were changed, "we would lose one side or the other."

For this and other reasons, Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, another of the bill's sponsors, said the group planned on taking its time with the legislation.

"It's a complicated issue and I think people want to learn more about it," the Cuban-American lawmaker told reporters. "This will be a while. This is not going to be done in a week or quite frankly in a month."


Rubio's comment underscored the delicate construction of the proposal, which would create a new legal status for millions of undocumented immigrants, as urged by immigrant advocacy groups and large segments of the Democratic party.

But to lure Republican support, it conditions a path to permanent legal status - and ultimately a chance for citizenship - on the success of a multibillion-dollar effort to make U.S. borders less porous, using unmanned aerial surveillance, the construction of double and triple lawyers of fencing and the deployment of thousands of additional border patrol officers along with the National Guard.

To get business support, the bill would create a new system of visas for temporary agricultural workers and low-skilled laborers as well as expand the number of specialized, highly-trained foreigners allowed to enter the country to work for technology companies.

To avoid alienating fiscal conservatives in both parties, the proposal denies most federal benefits to the immigrants until they achieve permanent status in the United States, which could take 10 years.

Supporters insist that the bill would not provide an amnesty to illegal immigrants.

The eight senators are trying to pull together broad Republican and Democratic support in hopes that doing so will save the legislation from the fate of failed efforts to comprehensively reform immigration over the past three decades.

That strategy began to pay off Tuesday, even before the bill had been formally introduced.

Conservative anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform, was among those who praised the immigration reform effort. He said he would attend a news conference later this week sponsored by the bipartisan group of senators backing the bill.

"They are doing serious border security. They are making sure that the 10 or 11 million who are here without papers can stay and work as long they are not criminals as long as they're working. So you're weeding out bad guys and allowing people who are good and decent and hard-working to be able to stay and work and get in line in questions of citizenship ..."

Rather than being a cost to the country, the bill would be a "boon" to the economy and would save taxpayers money because those with the provisional visas won't be eligible for federal benefits, Norquist said.


5 Roadblocks to Immigration Reform

Even with bipartisan support in the Senate, immigration reform could stumble on its way through Congress.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio appeared on all seven Sunday news shows to pitch the Gang of Eight immigration reform plan that will be unveiled this week.

For the first time since Congress' 2007 efforts to fix immigration, reform advocates are facing the very real prospect of passing bipartisan legislation. As the most public face of immigration reform advocates, Rubio made the case for the proposal on national television this weekend, offering cover to conservatives by arguing that a pathway to citizenship is not amnesty.

The Gang is expected to unveil its legislation this week and while supporters are cautiously optimistic, there are also plenty of reasons to be skeptical. Here is a look at five roadblocks immigration legislation could face.

1) Conservatives are worried about border security enforcement and the cost of reform. "Everyone understands that any proposal without real border security and robust interior enforcement is unacceptable to the American people," wrote GOP Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas in Politico today. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama worried that immigration reform would be useless without federal enforcement. "And we have in this administration a failure to enforce," he said on ABC's This Week. There is also a concern about the costs associated with immigration reform, with a lively debate on the right between the Heritage Foundation, which argues reform will be costly because of the federal government benefits immigrants could receive, and the Cato Institute and American Action Forum, which argue reform could boost per capita GDP. 

Rubio preemptively made the case on the Sunday shows that such estimates are unreliable because they don't factor in the economic growth that immigrants' work provides the country. “Conservatives love dynamic scoring, which [is] a complicated way of saying you look at a budget issue not just for the costs but for the benefits associated with it," Rubio said on Fox News Sunday. "All I’m asking for is that for this plan to be reviewed through that standard - the same conservative dynamic scoring that we apply to tax cuts."

2) Congressional hearings could expose problematic provisions with a lengthy bill. That's why some senators supportive of immigration reform want to speed the legislation through committee. That's also why some House Republicans want the bill to go through regular order, which means the bill would work its way through the committee process and a number of hearings. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia made the case on Sunday that any reform legislation should go through this lengthier process. Meanwhile, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont announced a hearing for this week, a move some Senate Republicans said amounts to rushing the proposal through the legislative process.

For his part, Rubio released a statement Monday afternoon declaring his support for a transparent process to allow all parties to review the bill. "As we go forward in this immigration debate, we need more openness and transparency that I firmly believe will only help improve this bill and earn the public’s confidence that it will truly establish the strongest border security and enforcement measures in U.S. history, modernize our immigration system to help create more jobs for Americans, and deal with our undocumented population in a tough but fair way," Rubio said in a statement.

3) President Obama's support of any plan could cost Republican support in both chambers of Congress. The president has been conspicously silent about immigration reform lately, primarily offering support for the overall process but remaining silent on the details.  But once the legislation is released, he's bound to weigh in. That could prove toxic for many House Republicans, conservative senators, and a handful of red-state Democratic senators facing reelection in 2014 because of Obama's unpopularity in their states.

4) The tea party caucus in the House is already fuming. Rep. Steve King of Iowa is meeting with other conservative members, who are frustrated the Senate-brokered deal will not reflect their input. “The meetings of the Gang of Eight and the secret meetings in the House of Representatives — the people who have been standing up for the Constitution and the rule of law haven’t been invited to those meetings,” King said, according to National Review.  This suggests there will be loud opposition from conservative opponents, and if history is any indication, that would make a bill tougher to pass in the Republican-controlled House.

5)  GOP senators aren't sold yet on the proposal either. Sessions called the bill bad for U.S. workers and made an economic case against the bill. "It's logical that if you bring in a massive supply of low-wage workers, you're going to pull the workers down," Sessions said on ABC's This Week. Meanwhile, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas worries about the fairness of a path to citizenship, which he suggested is unfair to the many immigrants who came to the U.S. legally. “It worries me, even if someone goes to the back of the line," Cruz said on Fox News. "It means you’re a chump for having stayed in your own country and followed the rules."


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