There are two political realities that get obscured — intentionally so — by anti- immigration reform advocates. First, poll after poll shows Republicans favor comprehensive immigration reform that secures the border, puts stiff requirements on citizenship and helps retain high-skilled workers. Second, Republicans may think they can avoid talking about immigration reform, but come August the president is likely to act unilaterally to stay deportations and then vilify Republicans as anti-immigrant. They can run from the issue, but they won’t get very far.
Before the defeat of Majority Leader Eric Cantor and the foreign policy meltdown, pro-immigration activists saw June-July as the best time frame to try to move a House immigration reform bill. Doug Holtz-Eakin of the American Action Forum has been making the case to Republicans that immigration reform is good policy and good politics. He argues that “the Cantor analysis is wrong” insofar as it cites immigration reform as the reason behind Cantor’s loss.
Nevertheless, time is not on reformers’ side this year. After a couple weeks in session this summer, Congress will be away for August and return for only a week or so before the November elections. That doesn’t give much time for lawmaking of any kind. And that is a shame not only from the standpoint of immigration reform, but also from the point of view of sound, pro-growth economic policies.
Holtz-Eakin says, “This was the year we were going to see a growth upshift. But I’m not seeing it.” Neither are voters. GDP growth is minimal and job growth has never approached that in other post-recession recoveries.
Certainly consumers might look at their home balance sheets, see some recovered home value, look at their 401(k)s (which reflect the booming stock market) and decide to splurge on big ticket items. So far that hasn’t happened. The other possibility is that business capital investment or a housing boom takes off, but here again there is no sign of sustained momentum. How then to juice the economy? Attacking the job creation deficit seems to be the most promising.
There is no doubt the population is aging and labor force growth is slowing, but that is all the more reason to adopt policies that tip employers’ decision making in favor of hiring more workers. In fact, Obama has been doing the opposite. Regulatory overkill, Obamacare, a hike in the minimum wage, tax increases as the price for tax reform and refusal to develop domestic energy are all policies that impede hiring. In essence, we are taxing labor at the very time we should be making it easier to keep people in the labor market and to incentivize hiring.
Likewise, allowing STEM-proficient foreign students to remain in the United States, sweeping illegal immigrants back into the legal economy and increasing the number of H1-B visas are all measures to promote a labor force increase. Foreigners start businesses that employ more U.S. workers. They are disproportionately entrepreneurial, and skilled workers, we know, spur growth.
Unfortunately, legislation to promote pro-growth policies including immigration reform now is stalled, it seems. Whatever the House has passed the Senate won’t touch. Whatever could be passed (e.g. an energy bill) is held up at the instigation of the White House. It might then behoove House Republicans to take a stab at immigration reform, if for no other reason than to defend themselves against Democrats’ demagoguery. It also would be a meaningful pro-growth measure, maybe the only one that can get done before Obama leaves office.