Wonkbook: The emerging immigration consensus — and its cracks

January 30, 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: $651 miles. The 2007 McCain/Kennedy immigration bill -- the one that failed in the Senate -- set out a series of goals for securing the border. As Suzy Khimm reports, even though the bill failed, we've met almost all its border security goals anyway. "The 2007 bill proposed to erect 300 miles of vehicle barriers, 370 miles of fencing, 105 radar and camera towers, and four drones; by 2012, we completed 651 miles of vehicle fencing—including 352 miles of pedestrian fencing and 299 vehicle barriers—300 towers, and nine drones, according to Customs and Border Patrol."


 (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Wonkblog's Graph of the Day: The insanely confusing path to legal immigration.

Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: 1) Where we are -- and are not -- on immigration; 2) gun control hits the Senate; 3) an economic update; 4) sequester gloom is deepening; and 5) why financial regulation has stalled.

1) Top story: Obama talks immigration

Obama makes his immigration push. "President Obama on Tuesday put the weight of his administration behind efforts to pass legislation allowing many of the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants to earn citizenship, seeking to build on a rapidly shifting political consensus around the issue. Obama dedicated the first trip of his second term to calling for an overhaul of immigration laws, making clear that it is one of his top domestic priorities. The president — who has said that not passing an overhaul in his first term was his biggest failure — also suggested he has little patience for Congress and would demand that lawmakers vote on his more permissive plan if they do not swiftly pass their own." Zachary A. Goldfarb and Rosalind S. Helderman in The Washington Post.

Read: The transcript of Obama's speech on immigration.

Read: The text of the President's immigration proposal.

In immigration debate, President balances bully pulpit with negotiating posture. "His return to Las Vegas on Tuesday — the first trip outside Washington in his second term — was an early test of his leadership style for the next four years. Obama called for a broad overhaul of immigration laws, using the power of the bully pulpit to urge Americans and lawmakers to get behind his vision. But he also tried out a more conciliatory and less adversarial approach to Congress than he employed during the campaign and during the recent debate over the 'fiscal cliff' and debt limit." Zachary A. Goldfarb in The Washington Post.

@hillhulse: Overarching q on immigration: Is there a final bill both Pres Obama and majority of House GOP can back? No mostly Dems on this one.

How he sees his role. "Mr. Obama used his speech to give himself dual options: being involved in the debate as it unfolds in coming months in Congress, while also staying distant enough to be able to force the action in the direction of policies he favors, if he finds it necessary." Julia Preston in The New York Times.

@blakehounshell: Obama is kind of in a no-lose situation on immigration, right? He can propose something that can't pass, and blame it on Republicans.

The emerging immigration consensus: "There’s little in President Obama’s immigration-reform proposal that isn’t, or couldn’t be, in the Senate’s proposal. There’s little in the Senate’s proposal that isn’t, or couldn’t be, in Obama’s proposal...That consensus has five parts....[But] the consensus over a framework, in other words, has a long way to go before it becomes a consensus over a bill." Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

Mark your calendars: The first immigration hearing is Feb. 13. "The formal process of considering changes to immigration laws will begin with a Senate hearing Feb. 13, leaders announced Tuesday.The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to hold a hearing Feb. 13, the day after President Obama’s State of the Union address, according to the panel’s chairman, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.)." Ed O'Keefe in The Washington Post.

Explainer: 5 things economists know about immigration that you really shouldDylan Matthews in The Washington Post.

Want tighter border security? You're already getting it. "Legislators have failed to pass a sweeping immigration overhaul for more than five years. But there’s one piece of the 2007 immigration reform bill that they’ve managed to accomplish: pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into border security...In fact, even though the 2007 immigration bill ultimately failed, we’ve nevertheless hit nearly all of the targets that it established for increased border security—except for achieving absolute “operational control” of the border and mandatory detention of all border-crossers who’ve been apprehended." Suzy Khimm in The Washington Post.

New rule: You shouldn't be able to say "we need to secure the border" unless you know the numbers from Suzy Khimm's piece.

We're running out of farm workers. This won't help. "Farmers have long grumbled about a shortage of labor, and they’ve asked for policies that make it easier to hire foreign workers from places like Mexico...[L]ooser immigration laws may not be able to keep our food cheap forever. A recent study suggests that U.S. farms could well face a shortage of low-cost labor in the years ahead no matter what Congress does on immigration. That’s because Mexico is getting richer and can no longer supply as many rural farm workers to the United States." Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.

Despite broad agreement, there are key disagreements on immigration. "The immigration reform plan President Barack Obama outlined Tuesday sounds a lot like the new bipartisan proposal from the Senate — and on the broad points, it is. But the differences are in the details. And those details, with the liberal stamp Obama put on his approach here, could be the difference between a deal and another failed effort on an issue that Washington has struggled with for years." Carrie Budoff Brown and Reid J. Epstein in Politico.

For instance, watch guest worker programs. "One of the toughest questions in the 2007 reforms concerned the creation of a large guest worker program, which unions — and then-Sen. Barack Obama — opposed. The Senate’s framework appears to create such a program but offers few details. Obama’s current framework doesn’t make mention of such a program, but his May 2011 white paper did. In that set of recommendations, the Obama administration embraced the AgJOBS bill for agricultural workers and talked of “establishing a new, small, and targeted temporary worker program for lower skilled, non-seasonal, non-agricultural workers to be hired when no American worker is available.” Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

A lot of top Republicans have moved on immigration. "Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has undergone a pretty significant political evolution over the past decade on the issue of illegal immigration. But while he may be the best example of the GOP’s uncertainty on the issue, he’s hardly the only Republican/conservative to shift positions/emphases over the course of his career. Here's a sampling of some of the more notable recent converts." Aaron Blake in The Washington Post.

@RameshPonnuru: Putting the immigration issue "behind us" seems like a bad/unattainable idea. Managing it better on the other hand makes sense.

...But the Senate's right wing is beginning to coalesce against the reforms. "Senior Senate Republicans such as Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Richard Shelby of Alabama, with influential junior GOP senators such as Ted Cruz of Texas, are wary of embracing the sprawling bipartisan plan to revamp the nation’s immigration laws and provide a pathway to citizenship for the country’s 11 million illegal immigrants. Some on the right, like Sens. Jeff Sessions of Alabama and David Vitter of Louisiana, are emerging as outspoken critics of the plan because of what they see as 'amnesty' to lawbreakers." Manu Raju and Kate Nocera in Politico.

@chrislhayes: It will also be really fascinating to see whether GOP elites can successfully sell immigration legislation to the base.

...Has the revolt begun? "[N]ow that an actual plan is beginning to take shape this week, the Republican unity in media circles has begun to crumble. The new immigration reform effort, announced yesterday by a bipartisan group of senators, has driven a wedge into the conservative commentariat. Karl Rove and the Wall Street Journal editorial board mostly support the plan, while powerful right-wing personalities like Rush Limbaugh and Michelle Malkin oppose it." Dylan Byers in Politico

Explainer: 5 areas where Obama and the Senate can agree on immigration reform

KLEIN: To fix economy, fix immigration. "Washington tends to have a narrow view of what counts as 'economic policy.' Anything we do to the tax code is in. So is any stimulus we pass, or any deficit reduction we try. Most of this mistakes the federal budget for the economy. The truth is, the most important piece of economic policy we pass -- or don’t pass -- in 2013 may be something we don’t think of as economic policy at all: immigration reform." Ezra Klein in Bloomberg.

NGAI: Remove incentives for illegal immigration. "If we really want to tackle unauthorized migration, we need to understand why it exists in the first place. The most important cause is our system of allocating green cards, or visas for permanent residency, which stipulates that no country may have more than 7 percent of the total each year." Mae M. Ngai in The New York Times.

Music recommendations interlude: Wilco, "Theologians," 2004.

Top op-eds

BAKER AND DINGELL: Gun violence is killing too many. End it. "[T]he harsh truth is that too many Americans are dying from gun-related shootings — more than 30,000 each year and more than one million since 1960. Gun violence now rivals traffic accidents as the leading cause of death by injury in the United States. Quite simply, gun violence threatens to overwhelm us." James A. Baker III and John D. Dingell in The New York Times.

O'HANLON: What you're cutting when you cut defense spending. "Rather than resolve the impasse by such sweeping arguments, however, it would be better to link budget numbers to strategies and capabilities...The plan scales down the military from about 1.5 million active-duty uniformed personnel to 1.4 million, the pre-9/11 level that is two-thirds the Cold War norm." Michael O'Hanlon in The Wall Street Journal.

PORTER: The right answer to climate change is a higher effective tax on carbon emissions. "Among the 34 industrialized nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, these taxes average about $68.4 per metric ton of carbon dioxide. The United States, by contrast, has a gas tax to pay for highway improvement, and that’s about it. Total federal taxes on energy amount to $6.30 per ton...[T]he federal government is unique in imposing no taxes on other energy use, from residential heating to power generation." Eduardo Porter in The New York Times.

ORSZAG: Too early to celebrate economic recovery. "The BOE analysis finds that crises reduce short-run productivity growth by 0.6 to 0.7 percentage point per year, on average -- a sizeable effect. Over the past five years, U.S. annual productivity growth has averaged only about 1.5 percent, so a drop of 0.6 to 0.7 percentage point is relatively big...For each year of a financial crisis, the level of gross domestic product per capita is reduced in the long term by 1.5 percentage points. In other words, a crisis lasting five years permanently lowers GDP per capita by a whopping 7.5 percentage points." Peter R. Orszag in Bloomberg.

SOLTAS: How the old will rob the young. "The coming generation of retirees hasn't paid nearly enough in taxes to cover the costs of the pensions and medical care it has promised itself. The generation of Americans between ages 60 and 65 in 2010, for instance, has underpaid by some $292 billion, according to the International Monetary Fund. That means young Americans -- and those yet to be born -- will face an ugly decision. Either they can cover their parents' and grandparents' bills by raising their own taxes, or they can cut their elderly relatives' benefits." Evan Soltas in Bloomberg.

GLASER: Fix housing policy before the next bubble. "It’s odd that President Barack Obama didn’t mention housing in his second inaugural address. After all, he spent his first term in the shadow of a housing meltdown, and remaking federal housing policy remains a central piece of unfinished business." Edward Glaeser in Bloomberg.

What happened to our adorable animals interlude: Cats are deadlier than you think.

2) Senate readies for gun-control debate

How the gun-control hearing could get exciting. "Gun control will take center stage on Wednesday at what is expected to be an incendiary hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. But witnesses like Wayne LaPierre, CEO of the National Rifle Association, won’t necessarily be the only source of sparks. The 18 members of the panel are some of the most partisan, staunchly divided lawmakers in the Senate on the key issues facing them." Ginger Gibson and John Bresnahan in Politico.

...Cruz, Graham want to bring unloaded guns into the hearing. "Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) are asking for help in bringing unloaded guns to Wednesday’s Judiciary Committee hearing. The senators have run into hurdles with local and federal law enforcement." Ginger Gibson in Politico.

LaPierre watch: He'll oppose background checks. "The National Rifle Association has released the text of NRA head Wayne LaPierre’s Senate testimony a day early. And, unsurprisingly, he’s taking a defiant tone. Perhaps most interestingly, LaPierre is prepared to attack not just the proposed assault weapons ban, but also the universal background checks that are perhaps the least controversial aspect of the current debate and the early focus of the White House." Aaron Blake in The Washington Post.

Paul Ryan says he's willing to close the gun-show loophole. "Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said this week that he is open to closing the loophole that allows weapon purchases at gun shows without a background check. In an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published Tuesday, Ryan said gun show loopholes are a “very reasonable” issue and that it’s “obvious” it should be addressed." Rachel Weiner in The Washington Post.

Why the assault-weapons ban will probably go nowhere. "Most everyone agrees that the ban is the most ambitious and politically difficult item on President Obama’s and Vice President Biden’s gun control agenda. And there is increasing evidence that it will be cast aside in favor or more doable proposals. Below, we look at four reasons why." Aaron Blake in The Washington Post.

Haughty interlude: Artspeak, a user's guide.

3) Main Street thinks the recovery has arrived

Individual investors are driving the stock market rally. "Small investors are jumping back into the stock market after abandoning it during the financial crisis...Many analysts and strategists say individual investors are providing another source of fuel for the stock market. One piece of evidence: A total of $6.8 billion shifted into U.S. stock mutual funds in the first three weeks of 2013, according to mutual-fund tracker Lipper Inc. That is the biggest move since 2001." Tom Lauricella in The Wall Street Journal.

The story of the American economy is Harley-Davidson. "Harley-Davidson is more than just an iconic American brand. It is also a surprisingly good reflection of the forces shaping the U.S. economy as a whole. The motorcycle company reported its fourth quarter earnings Tuesday, and the details show a firm that is as typically American as the roaring sound of a hog on the highway." Neil Irwin in The Washington Post.

Home prices are helping the economy. "The U.S. housing recovery continues to gain strength and breadth, helping to lift the economy at a time when overall growth remains sluggish...Home prices rose 5.5% in November from a year ago, the strongest increase since the peak of the housing boom in August 2006, according to the Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller index, released Tuesday." Conor Dougherty in The Wall Street Journal.

Classical interlude: A Latin motto generator.

4) No exit on sequester

Sequester gloom is deepening. "Less than a month after averting one fiscal crisis, Washington began bracing Tuesday for another, as lawmakers in both parties predicted that deep, across-the-board spending cuts would probably hit the Pentagon and other federal agencies on March 1. An array of proposals are in the works to delay or replace the cuts. But party leaders say they see no clear path to compromise, particularly given a growing sentiment among Republicans to pocket the cuts and move on to larger battles over health and retirement spending." Lori Montgomery in The Washington Post.

How's the deficit doing? It depends on your timeframe. "The Peterson Foundation believes such data is a clarion call for reforming health-care entitlements and avoiding 'alarming levels of debt.' Bernstein, however, is among those who believe that we need to understand the real magnitude and nature of health-care cost growth before pushing through a massive overhaul that would unduly impact the economically vulnerable. The most ardent deficit owls go even farther." Suzy Khimm in The Washington Post.

Movie interlude: Geminid meteor shower from Death Valley.

5) Watering down financial reform

The world is forgetting Lehman. "Five years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, a global push to tighten financial regulation around the world has slowed in the face of a tepid recovery and a tough industry lobbying effort...But the post-Lehman goal — of a global scheme that would immunize the financial system from another large-scale shock — remains incomplete." Howard Schneider and Danielle Douglas in The Washington Post.

...And that has some senators asking questions. "A bipartisan pair of lawmakers on Tuesday questioned the Justice Department’s prosecution of large financial institutions, raising concerns that recent settlements have fallen short of holding Wall Street accountable for wrongdoing. Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) sent a letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. asking for a detailed explanation of the department’s procedures for going after financial crime. Penalties in settlements have been disproportionately low relative to company profits and the costs imposed on consumers, investors and the market, they said." Danielle Douglas in The Washington Post.

Will you marry me interlude: I will! But how 'bout you unblock the highway?

Wonkblog roundup

China now burning as much coal as the rest of the world combined. Brad Plumer.

Immigration reform could add seven million people to Obamacare. Sarah Kliff.

How's the deficit doing? Depends if you look over 10 years or 25. Suzy Khimm.

Et Cetera

Your W-2 may now list the cost of your health coverage. Robert Pear in The New York Times.

Ray LaHood is stepping down as Transportation Secretary. Ashley Halsey III in The Washington Post.

CEOs are supportive of voluntary cybersecurity rules. Siobhan Gorman in The Wall Street Journal.

Multi-employer pension plans are in trouble. John D. McKinnon in The Wall Street Journal.

Can gas undo nuclear? Rebecca Smith in The Wall Street Journal.

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

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.

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Dylan Matthews · January 29, 2013