Wonkbook: Everything you need to know about the Senate’s immigration reform plan

January 29, 2013

Welcome to Wonkbook, Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas's morning policy news primer. To subscribe by e-mail, click here. Send comments, criticism, or ideas to Wonkbook at Gmail dot com. To read more by Ezra and his team, go to Wonkblog.

Wonkbook's Number of the Day: 11 million. That's the number of undocumented immigrants that are currently in the U.S -- the heart of the immigration-policy debate. The Senate's reform plan now on the table opens up a path to legal status for most of the 11 million. More below. 


Federico Paseiro, center, his mother Patricia Sosa, right, both illegal immigrants of Argentina, and his girlfriend Daysis Moraga, an immigration activist, left, hold signs in front of the Freedom Tower in Miami Jan. 28. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

Wonkblog's Graph of the Day: Illegal immigration has slowed since 2007.

Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: 1) Reactions to the Senate's immigration plan, and looking toward Obama's entry; 2) the debt-ceiling fix might last till August; 3) the economy is looking surprisingly good; 4) this gun debate has been different; and 5) Sarah Kliff launches "Health Reform Watch."

1) Top story: Everything you need to know about the Senate's immigration reform plan

Senators reveal their immigration reform plan. "At a joint news conference, five of the eight senators who signed on to a detailed statement of principles to guide the effort portrayed it as a way to resolve the plight of millions of undocumented immigrants living illegally in society’s shadows and to modernize and streamline the legal immigration system." Rosalind S. Helderman and William Branigin in The Washington Post.

The key policy changes, according to Helderman and Branigin: "Legalization would be afforded almost immediately to the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants, provided they pay back taxes and a fine. But the opportunity to pursue full citizenship would not become available until the border was secured and new systems were in place for employers to verify workers’ immigration status and for the government to ensure that legal immigrants cannot overstay their visas."

Read: The text of the Senate immigration reform plan.

Explainers: The five most important sentences of the plan and two numbers which explain rising Republican support for reformEzra Klein in The Washington Post. 

Obama's more liberal plan will be announced in a speech today. "The Obama administration has developed its own proposals for immigration reform that are more liberal than a separate bipartisan effort in the Senate, including a quicker path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, people with knowledge of the proposals said. President Obama is expected to provide some details of the White House plans during a Tuesday appearance in Las Vegas, where he will call for sweeping changes to the nation’s immigration laws." David Nakamura and Rosalind S. Helderman in The Washington Post.

@Goldfarb: White House briefing: Carney says no changes to Obama plan for immigration despite Senate plan

The proposal is gaining support from a broad swath of Congress. "The push to overhaul immigration laws gathered momentum Monday, as a bipartisan Senate proposal to liberalize the treatment of illegal immigrants drew support from business and labor groups. Some leading Republicans, who represent the biggest potential obstacles, either held their fire or welcomed the plan." Janet Hook, Kristina Peterson, and Laura Meckler in The Wall Street Journal.

Advocates: This is the biggest breakthrough since 2007. "Advocates describe the senators’ framework as the biggest bipartisan breakthrough publicly released since 2007, when President George Bush’s immigration overhaul died in Congress...Their concern is that the conditions for gaining citizenship could wind up being so  stringent that undocumented immigrants could remain in legal limbo for the indeterminate future...Advocates are hopeful, however, that the senators’ intent is to make the plan workable and not create an endless, open-ended timeframe for legalization." Suzy Khimm in The Washington Post.

@BobCusack: Plenty of optimism on immigration, but many hurdles remain. In 2007, President George W. Bush said, "I'll see you at the bill signing."

It could pass in just a few months. "'We have a long way to go, but this bipartisan blueprint is a major breakthrough,' said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.). He said the Senate could pass the bill by late spring or summer." Rosalind S. Helderman in The Washington Post.

Explainer: Who is the 'Gang of 8'? Rachel Weiner in The Washington Post. 

Reid is on board. "Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) on Monday called a proposal by a bipartisan group of senators to overhaul the immigration system a 'positive first step' and promised to do 'everything in my power' to help a bipartisan bill pass the Senate this year. 'This is a positive first step. But the true test of our congressional leadership will be to pass a comprehensive bill...As a senator from Nevada, who has for years witnessed firsthand the difficulties our broken immigration system presents for immigrants and their families, it is very important to me, personally, that we finally resolve this issue.'" Rosalind S. Helderman in The Washington Post.

...As are both business and labor. "The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO have both endorsed the bipartisan immigration reform proposal being outlined today, suggesting a new alliance between business and labor. In 2007, the major union federation and the business lobby split over a guest worker program that the AFL-CIO deemed exploitative. " Rachel Weiner in The Washington Post.

Boehner isn't a 'yes' yet. "House Speaker John A. Boehner gave a measured response to a new bipartisan framework for changes to the nation’s immigration laws, to be unveiled by a group of eight senators Monday afternoon. A spokesman for Boehner (R-Ohio) said he 'welcomes the work of leaders like Senator Rubio on this issue and is looking forward to learning more about the proposal in the coming days.'" Rosalind S. Helderman in The Washington Post.

...And immigration reform is likely to be a tough sell in the House. "House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) didn’t comment on the Senate principles that include a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants — he’ll lay out some of his own next week at the American Enterprise Institute...Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the Virginia Republican who chairs the House Judiciary Committee tasked with immigration policy, said 'we have a lot to discuss' when considering proposals." Jake Sherman and Ginger Gibson in Politico.

McConnell seems closer to 'yes.' "McConnell stopped short of fully endorsing the new Senate framework. But he praised the group for their 'hard work.' He called on the Senate to advance legislation through its normal committee structure to allow senators in both parties to contribute to the effort." Rosalind S. Helderman in The Washington Post.

@jonathanweisman: Dick Durbin - this nation has been debating immigration since 1st boat got to America, wondered why the 2nd boat was coming.

Sen. Mike Lee, who quit the immigration Gang of 8, shows why conservative defections are a risk to reforms. "Lee (R-Utah) was involved in bipartisan negotiations over immigration reform early in the discussions. But he wasn’t in the group that unveiled the proposal Monday. Why not? He disagrees with the proposed path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants." Rachel Weiner in Politico.

Explainers: Dylan Matthews of The Washington Post on how Hispanic immigrants are assimilating just as quickly as earlier groups, and Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post on why Republicans want and need immigration reform, in one chart.

WASHINGTON POST: A good start. "There's a way to go, and a universe of details to be decided, before Congress overhauls the nation’s broken immigration system. Still, it qualified as big news Monday that a bipartisan group of eight senators, working over the last several weeks, was able to fashion a skeletal framework agreement." The Washington Post Editorial Board.

NEW YORK TIMES: Now we're talking. "The statement lacks specifics and leaves a lot of room for disappointment and retreat. But what’s encouraging is that it exists at all. No longer does the immigration debate consist of two groups yelling across a void. No longer is the discussion hopelessly immobilized by Republicans who have categorically rejected any deal that includes any hint of 'amnesty.'" The New York Times Editorial Board.

WALL STREET JOURNAL Ed board is positive: "A path to citizenship would also assist the process of assimilation that has been one of America's historic strengths. The U.S. should not want a permanent class of residents who can never be citizens and thus have less incentive to adapt to U.S. cultural mores, speak English, or move out of segregated ethnic enclaves." The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board.

BLOOMBERG VIEW: On immigration, Congress comes out of hiding. "After years of scurrying for political cover, a brave handful of senators held a daylight, weekday news conference in Washington to present -- in writing -- a surprisingly detailed outline for overhauling the nation’s immigration laws. This is new. What’s more, the group of senators backing the outline is thoroughly bipartisan, with Republicans Jeff Flake, Lindsey Graham, John McCain and Marco Rubio declaring their participation...The proposals are promising." Bloomberg View Editorial Board.

MILBANK: Watch Rubio. "Marco Rubio was a bundle of nervous energy as he waited his turn to speak about the bipartisan immigration plan he had helped to draft...His anxiety was understandable: Rubio, one of the Republican Party’s hottest presidential prospects for 2016, was about to make official his support for allowing undocumented immigrants to become legal — the dreaded 'amnesty' that is poison to many a Republican primary voter." Dana Milbank in The Washington Post.

YGLESIAS: A narrow but real path to citizenship. "[A]ll in all it seems like a humane and sensible approach...If I have any big complaint, it's that the bill is oddly timid on the less controversial high-skill piece. What's the fear of America being overrun by foreign economists, lawyers, doctors, and other skilled professionals who don't have STEM advanced degrees? For that matter, what's wrong with foreign-born STEM workers who did their graduate work in the United Kingdom or Canada or France or India or Japan? And do skilled STEM workers really all have to have advanced degrees? Where's Bill Gates' PhD? I feel confident we can do better on this front." Matthew Yglesias in Slate.

@blakehounshell: No, in an ideal world it would be open and free MT @wrmead In an ideal world, immigration would be safe, legal and rare

DRUM: Immigration reform steps out onto the stage, and the moment is now, now, now. "[T]he unfortunate truth is that comprehensive reform was probably impossible until the flow of illegal immigrants was slowed down substantially...Combine this with a Republican Party that desperately needs to stanch its bleeding among the fastest growing ethnic group in the country, and you finally have, for the first time in decades, a political climate that just might make immigration reform possible. But I doubt that this moment will last very long. This probably needs to happen in the next six months if it's going to happen at all." Kevin Drum in Mother Jones.

@chrislhayes: I have to say I'm really excited to cover the immigration legislation battle. Huge human stakes, fascinating politically and doable.

YORK: Why the conservatives are skeptical. "The problem is that giving instant legality -- it's now called 'probationary legal status' -- clashes with the principle, deeply held among many conservatives and Republicans, that securing the border must come before creating a mechanism for legality and, ultimately, a path to citizenship for the roughly 11 million illegal immigrants already here." Byron York in The Washington Examiner.

GERSON: Does Obama want a deal? "Now enters President Obama. If he chooses — if he prefers a wedge issue to a legislative accomplishment — he could easily polarize this most polarizing of issues. It wouldn’t take much to undermine Rubio and spook the House Republican caucus. Obama could push for quick green cards for undocumented workers, leapfrogging them over people currently in the legalization line. He could, under pressure from labor unions, limit the scope of guest-worker programs. He could downplay border security and employer verification — which many Republicans regard as the only guarantees that current problems won’t be repeated 20 years down the road." Michael Gerson in The Washington Post.

DOUTHAT: Let's not kid ourselves. Immigration reform will help Democrats. "On immigration, though, the national party’s political self-interest isn’t necessarily served by compromise at all...[It's] very, very easy to imagine a future where immigration reform helps Republicans win a slightly higher percentage of the Hispanic vote, but costs them many more votes in absolute terms by accelerating the ongoing demographic shifts in the electorate." Ross Douthat in The New York Times.

@davidfrum: The driver of GOP position on immigration reform is the party's radical lack of interest in the question, why do Hispanics vote as they do?

SALAM: The emerging immigration deal, and its flaws. "[T]he broad contours of the emerging Gang of Eight proposal are somewhat disappointing....But so far, the Gang of Eight is flubbing some vitally important issues. " Reihan Salam in National Review Online.

Music recommendations interlude: Travis, "The Beautiful Occupation," 2003.

Top op-eds

SUNSTEIN: Obama, FDR, and a second Bill of Rights. "Obama’s second inaugural did not refer explicitly to the Second Bill of Rights, but it had an unmistakably Rooseveltian flavor...Having helped America to survive its greatest economic challenge since the 1930s, the current occupant of that office is giving new meaning to those commitments, and making them his own." Cass R. Sunstein in Bloomberg.

TAYLOR: Fed policy is a drag on the economy. "[A] basic microeconomic analysis shows that the policies perversely decrease aggregate demand and increase unemployment while they repress the classic signaling and incentive effects of the price system." John B. Taylor in The Wall Street Journal.

BROOKS: A second GOP. "It’s probably futile to try to change current Republicans. It’s smarter to build a new wing of the Republican Party, one that can compete in the Northeast, the mid-Atlantic states, in the upper Midwest and along the West Coast. It’s smarter to build a new division that is different the way the Westin is different than the Sheraton." David Brooks in The New York Times.

PONNURU: Why Republicans should ignore Obama. "Republicans can and should continue to stand for their principles on the many occasions when they conflict with Obama’s. What they shouldn’t do is conceive of their near-term political task as winning a series of confrontations with the president. Because they’re unlikely to win very often...The Republicans are better off sidelining Obama to the extent they can and fighting congressional Democrats -- or, better yet, getting congressional Democrats to fight one another." Ramesh Ponnuru in Bloomberg.

PETHOKOUKIS: Tax reform? Forget it. "Republicans view tax reform as way of making the tax code more efficient and amenable to economic growth; Democrats see it as a crude tool for financing an ever-expanding welfare state. Given that philosophical chasm, expect the current mess of a tax code to stay alive and kicking for some time." Jim Pethokoukis in National Review Online.

CILLIZZA AND BLAKE: Why Obama is right about the GOP. "The easiest path for Republicans will be to define themselves wholly in opposition to the president and what he proposes. And, such a path — as demonstrated by the 2010 midterm elections — could well have short-term political benefits. But to sustain and to thrive as a party, Republicans almost certainly need to cut deals on matters of political necessity (immigration is the most obvious) while simultaneously staking out new ground with a rigorous — and positive — set of policy proposals." Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake in The Washington Post.

Late night interlude: Dave Letterman's "top 10 signs your congressman is a hothead."

2) The debt-ceiling fix may last till August

The debt-ceiling fix may be good for longer than three months. "The next deadline for raising the nation’s borrowing limit may not come until August if the Senate passes the House-approved debt ceiling bill this week as scheduled, according to Capitol Hill sources. Treasury Department officials have privately advised Senate Democrats that the House bill, which suspends the debt ceiling until May 19, can be extended through July thanks to 'extraordinary measures' used by the agency to avoid a default, the sources said." John Bresnahan in Politico.

That's because it restores government retirement savings funds. "The pending debt ceiling relief bill would end a financial maneuver under way involving the Thrift Savings Plan’s most popular investment fund, although the process might be repeated in a matter of months unless a longer-term fix is put in place, the TSP said Monday." Eric Yoder in The Washington Post.

Lost history interlude: Timbuktu's ancient library of manuscripts is burned down in Mali war.

3) Why everyone is getting really optimistic about the economy

Are we on the edge of an economic boom? "Demand for durable goods rose in December, pointing to momentum in U.S. manufacturing as businesses invested in equipment amid an improving global outlook. Manufacturers' orders for durable goods—items designed to last at least three years—rose 4.6% from November, the Commerce Department said Monday...Excluding transportation equipment, orders rose 1.3%." Josh Mitchell in The Wall Street Journal.

The economy rocked all the way through the fiscal cliff. Huh? "Two pieces of news Monday morning show a corporate sector that was in an expansionary mode at the end of 2012. Companies seemed to have ramped up their spending on big, heavy, long-term investments as the year came to a close. And that, coupled with some other recent numbers, point to one of the more promising trends for the economy in 2013. There are growing signs that Washington’s dysfunctions are less of a drag on the economy than many of us thought." Neil Irwin in The Washington Post.

After years in the dark, housing is once again an economic bright spot. "The number of homes for sale is at its lowest level since before the recession, sparking competition among buyers that has led to 10 straight months of price increases. The volume of activity is the highest since 2007...Builders broke ground in December on themost new housing developments in four years." Ylan Q. Mui in The Washington Post.

It's time for a reformation of your insults interlude: Martin Luther insult generator.

4) Newtown worked to push gun control to the center of the debate and keep it there

Why this gun debate has been different. "That the gun control debate hasn’t faded from public view owes much to the media. Over the last month and a half, news organizations have covered the shooting in Newtown, Conn., in a fundamentally different way than they have others. And that’s because President Obama and other Democrats have given journalists a story they can’t resist." Danny Hayes in The Washington Post.

Obama says he has to count on Congress for action on gun control. "Obama has called for a series of bills that would ban semi-automatic weapons with military features — often referred to as assault weapons — along with high-capacity magazines. The president has also called for universal background checks on gun purchases along with expanded research into the causes of gun violence." Justin Sink in The Hill.

The link you're going to send to everyone right now interlude: There was a family in Russia who lived in total isolation for 40 years.

5) Health Reform Watch launches

Wonkblog's Sarah Kliff launches 'Health Reform Watch.' "Welcome to Health Reform Watch, Sarah Kliff’s regular look at how the Affordable Care Act is changing the American health-care system — and being changed by it...Check back every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 2 p.m. for the latest edition.Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

Very important interview: Richard S. Foster, the retiring Medicare actuary, on 18 years of his work. Mary Agnes Carey in Kaiser Health News.

Could drugstore networks save billions from health spending? "Greater use of 'preferred' and 'limited' pharmacy networks could save taxpayers $115 billion over the next 10 years on prescription costs, according to a new study." Elise Viebeck in The Hill.

The Affordable Care Act's future will depend on the states. "After running a gauntlet of legal and political opposition, the Affordable Care Act is poised to bring the United States closer than it has ever been to universal health insurance. But just how close it gets will be up to individual states." Christine Vestal in Stateline.

House Dems want to change wellness program rules. "Leading House Democrats wrote to the Health and Human Services Department on Friday to push for changes in rules about wellness programs in employers' healthcare packages. The Democrats want HHS to roll back incentives that are contingent on an employee's health, as opposed to taking part in certain activities to improve his or her health." Sam Baker in The Hill.

So, you want to start a health insurance plan. "The Affordable Care Act, however, has the potential to shake up the market. Federal subsidies will roll out in 2014, creating a wave of new customers. They will purchase coverage on an exchange, where big and small insurers alike will be displayed side by side." Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

In memoriam interlude: Video of the Aaron Swartz memorial service.

Et Cetera

In what must count as austerity measures, the city of Dijon, France is selling off prized wines from state assets to fund local social spendingHugh Carnegy in The Financial Times.

What's next for the National Labor Relations Board? Josh Hicks in The Washington Post.

Lawmakers want to tighten access to hydrocodone, a heavily abused prescription drugMegan R. Wilson in The Hill.

Treasury is approving million-dollar compensation packages at bailed-out banks. Danielle Douglas in The Washington Post.

Europe is 330 turbines short of its wind-power goalsKarolin Schaps in Reuters.

Federal appeals court tells EPA to stop dreaming about biofuelsMary Claire Jalonick in The Washington Post.

Got tips, additions, or comments? E-mail me.

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.

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Brad Plumer | January 28, 2013