Wonkbook: How to pass immigration reform

February 4, 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. That's the percentage of the population which is Hispanic in Republican congressional districts. The average Democratic congressional district is 23 percent Hispanic. 


(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Wonkblog's Graph of the Day: The unemployment rate could fall below 7.5 percent this summer.

Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: 1) The politics and policy on immigration; 2) the next fiscal fight; 3) gun-control measures advance; 4) can the GOP rein itself in?; and 5) the battle of the Boy Scouts.

But we can't totally ignore the Superbowl. So: The recap. The best and worst adsThe 11 biggest plays. The funniest tweets. A brief history of the NFL's response to brain trauma. Longreads on football and brain injury.

1) Top story: How to pass immigration reform

Reid: Senate will pass immigration reform. "Senate Majority Harry Reid (D-Nev.) guaranteed Sunday that the Senate would pass  sweeping immigration reform measures, and warned House Republicans against blocking the renewed attempt to overhaul the nation’s current immigration laws." Sean Sullivan in The Washington Post.

Which Republicans might support immigration reform? "In the 232 Congressional districts represented by Republicans, the average Hispanic share of each district is 11 percent (the 200 Congressional districts held by Democrats are, on average, 23 percent Hispanic)...Which Republicans might feel compelled to back an immigration overhaul? One place to look would be the Republican-held districts with the largest Hispanic communities." Micah Cohen in The New York Times.

@ModeledBehavior: We could make GDP grow very fast for a while w/ massive high-skilled immigration. Availability of this low-hanging fruit reduces debt risk

Why immigration reform fell short in 1986. "As President Obama and lawmakers from both parties begin to take their first tentative steps toward again rewriting the nation’s immigration laws, opponents warn that they are repeating the mistakes of the 1986 act, which failed to solve the problems that it set out to address. Critics contend that the law actually contributed to making the situation worse." Karen Tumulty in The Washington Post.

Who are the undocumented? "The Department of Homeland Security estimates that in 2011, the last year for which there are numbers, 6.8 million of the 11.5 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. were from Mexico. The Pew Hispanic Center, which often has the most reliable immigration data, says the number has dropped to 6.1 million, from 7 million five years before." Albert R. Hunt in Bloomberg.

@mileskimball#ImmigrationTweetDay coming in a matter of hours

The intersection of immigration reform and same-sex marriage. "President Obama is aiming to grant same-sex couples equal immigration rights as their heterosexual counterparts. The proposal could allow up to 40,000 foreign nationals in same-sex relationships to apply for legal residency and, potentially, U.S. citizenship." David Nakamura and Zachary A. Goldfarb in The Washington Post.

CROVITZ: The economics of immigration. "We also need a comprehensive rethinking of the purpose of the immigration laws. It's not widely understood that for more than a century the main goal of the immigration laws has been to set racial and ethnic quotas—not to attract the best and brightest from around the world...It's time to focus on the economic opportunities that immigrants can bring to the country, regardless of their origin." L. Gordon Crovitz in The Wall Street Journal.

Music recommendations interlude: Wilco, "The Thanks I Get," 2007.

Top op-eds

KRUGMAN: Republicans are the 'friends of fraud.' "What Republicans are demanding, basically, is that the protection bureau lose its independence. They want its actions subjected to a veto by other, bank-centered financial regulators, ensuring that consumers will once again be neglected, and they also want to take away its guaranteed funding, opening it to interest-group pressure. These changes would make the agency more or less worthless — but that, of course, is the point." Paul Krugman in The New York Times.

SIDES: Gerrymandering doesn't cause polarization... "Obama expressed a common view: that gerrymandering has created a bunch of safe seats for each party, making representatives responsive only to their partisan base and unwilling to forge bipartisan compromises. It would be nice if this view were true, because it would suggest a clear solution to our polarized politics: draw more competitive districts.  But unfortunately it is not true.  The most important influence on how members of Congress vote is not their constituents, but their party." John Sides in The Washington Post.

WANG: ...But gerrymandering does, on net, help Republicans. "Using statistical tools that are common in fields like my own, neuroscience, I have found strong evidence that this historic aberration arises from partisan disenfranchisement. Although gerrymandering is usually thought of as a bipartisan offense, the rather asymmetrical results may surprise you." Sam Wang in The New York Times.

SAMUELSON: Japan's stimulus trap. "Stimulus is supposed to be temporary. It’s supposed to 'jump-start the economy'” Expansion becomes self-sustaining. In Japan, this transition never really occurred...The lesson is that huge budget deficits and ultra-low interest rates — the basics of stimulus — have limits and can be self-defeating. To use a well-worn metaphor: Stimulus becomes a narcotic. People feel better for a while, but the effect wears off. The economy then needs a new fix. Too many fixes may spawn new problems (examples: excessive debt, asset “bubbles,” inflation). That’s already happened in Japan." Robert Samuelson in The Washington Post.

EMANUEL: We can be healthy and rich. "[B]ending the health care cost curve will actually spur the economy forward. According to the Council of Economic Advisers, reducing health care cost increases by just 1 percentage point every year would lead to a 4 percent increase in G.D.P. by 2030. In today’s dollars, that would mean an extra $600 billion for our economy and an extra $7,000 for the average family." Ezekiel Emanuel in The New York Times.

DIONNE: Ending the contraception-coverage debate. "A little more than a year ago, the Obama administration set off a bitter and unnecessary clash with the Roman Catholic Church over rules mandating broad contraception coverage under the Affordable Care Act. The Department of Health and Human Services’ announcement of new regulations is a clear statement that President Obama never wanted this fight." E.J. Dionne in The Washington Post.

Say cheese interlude: DARPA has a nice, new, 1.8-gigapixel drone camera.

2) What does the next fiscal fight look like?

Obama says that next budget battle should be about tax deductions and exemptions -- not tax rates. "President Obama said in a televised interview on Sunday that he could foresee a budget deal in Congress that did not include further increases in tax rates but instead focused on eliminating loopholes and deductions." Mark Landler in The New York Times.

For liberals, corporate tax breaks will be a target. "Harry Reid, the Democrat majority leader in the upper chamber, said tax breaks benefiting oil companies, businesses with international operations, and corporate jets should be considered if a [sequester] deal is to be reached, calling them 'low-hanging fruit.'" James Politi in The Financial Times.

...Meanwhile, Panetta warns on sequester's defense cut. "'If Congress stands back and allows sequester to take place, I think it would really be a shameful and irresponsible act,' Panetta said on NBC News’ 'Meet The Press.'" Sean Sullivan in The Washington Post.

Wonkbookmark interlude: Tweetping.net has tweets in real time, on a map.

3) Modest gun-control measures are making progress

Senate to move on gun control. "Senate Democratic leaders expect to introduce a gun bill that includes most of the proposals backed by President Barack Obama, with the notable exception of a ban on military-style, semiautomatic weapons, a top aide to Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said. The bill would likely seek to limit the capacity of ammunition magazines; expand background checks to include sales at gun shows and other private transactions; and require better record keeping to keep guns out of the hands of those with mental illnesses. It would also try to curb gun sales in states with more relaxed gun laws to buyers in states with stricter laws." Corey Boles and Neil King Jr. in The Wall Street Journal.

...And Reid details his position. "While Reid pronounced his support for expanding background checks on gun purchases, he said he was undecided about proposed bans on assault-style weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines." Sean Sullivan in The Washington Post.

Study: U.S. has seen one mass shooting per month since 2009. "[H]ow much do we actually know about mass shootings and the people who commit them? A new study (pdf) commissioned by Mayors Against Illegal Violence* tries to add some much-needed detail. The researchers pored through the FBI database and recent media reports for every mass shooting since January 2009 — that is, incidents in which at least four people were murdered by guns." Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.

Old photographs interlude: Afghanistan in the 1960s.

4) The Republican mainstream wants its party back

Eric Cantor to push Republican re-think in Tuesday speech. "House Majority Leader Eric Cantor plans to urge Republicans to begin talking about how the federal government can help American families rather than focusing primarily on the need to reduce federal spending and tackle budget deficits...In a policy speech scheduled for Tuesday to the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute, Mr. Cantor plans to talk about a range of areas—from education to medical research to job training, as well as an overhaul of the tax code—in the context of how Republican ideas could benefit families across the nation." Corey Boles in The Wall Street Journal.

Republican 'establishment' donors are trying to reassert control. "The biggest donors in the Republican Party are financing a new group to recruit seasoned candidates and protect Senate incumbents from challenges by far-right conservatives and Tea Party enthusiasts who Republican leaders worry could complicate the party’s efforts to win control of the Senate. The group, the Conservative Victory Project, is intended to counter other organizations that have helped defeat establishment Republican candidates over the last two election cycles. It is the most robust attempt yet by Republicans to impose a new sense of discipline on the party, particularly in primary races." Jeff Zeleny in The New York Times.

...And the far right laughs them off. "Both the Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund – two of the most prominent groups that have boosted candidates on the right – mocked the new initiative as yet another hapless establishment-side attempt to muzzle the GOP base." Alexander Burns in Politico.

TV interlude: Is 'House of Cards' the future of television?

5) The battle of the Boy Scouts

Obama urges Boy Scouts to end its ban on gay members and troop leaders. "With the venerable national organization weighing whether to lift its prohibition on gays, Obama was asked in a Super- Bowl pregame interview with CBS’s Scott Pelly whether the Boy Scouts should be open to gays. Obama gave a one-word answer: 'Yes.' Pressed to elaborate, the president said, 'I think that my attitude is that gays and lesbians should have access and opportunity the same way everybody else does in every institution and walk of life.'" Philip Rucker in The Washington Post.

...But Rick Perry, an Eagle scout, opposes an end to the gay ban. "Gov. Rick Perry of Texas said emphatically Saturday that the Boy Scouts of America should not soften its strict policy barring gay members, and dismissed the idea of bending the organization to the whims of 'popular culture.' 'Hopefully the board will follow their historic position of keeping the Scouts strongly supportive of the values that make scouting this very important and impactful organization.'" The Associated Press.

Picturesque interlude: 365 days of the year, one picture, many slivers.

Wonkblog Roundup

Here's what social science could have told you about the Super BowlSarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

Interview: Dylan Matthews talks with Sen. Angus King about the filibuster and life as a Senate independentThe Washington Post.

Gerrymandering isn't what's wrong with American politicsJohn Sides in The Washington Post.

Study: One mass murder per month in U.SBrad Plumer in The Washington Post.

Et Cetera

Pentagon says we'll keep U.S. troops in AfghanistanThom Shanker in The New York Times.

Healthcare spending: good for the economy now, but awful laterMargot Sanger-Katz in NationalJournal.

Physician assistants are filling doctors' shoesMelinda Beck in The Wall Street Journal.

Is Monterey shale the next oil boom? Norimitsu Onishi in The New York Times.

Deborah Hersman, the next Transportation Secretary? Andy Pasztor and Peter Nicholas in The Wall Street Journal.

Local governments are becoming less cautious with hiring, lightening austerity pressureSarah Halzack in The Washington Post.

...And investors are beginning to re-enter into stocks. Abha Bhattarai in The Washington Post.

The FCC wants to create huge public WiFi networksCecilia Kang in The Washington Post.

The robots are coming, the robots are comingCatherine Rampell in The New York Times.

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

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.

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