Wonkbook: Can Marco Rubio really walk away from immigration reform?

April 1, 2013

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(Photo by T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images)
(Photo by T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images)

Sen. Marco Rubio has, in recent weeks, built himself a very clear escape hatch on immigration reform. If, at any point, he needs to abandon the process, he can just say Democrats rushed it, or didn't allow enough amendments.

“We will need a healthy public debate that includes committee hearings and the opportunity for other senators to improve our legislation with their own amendments," he said on Sunday. "Excessive haste in the pursuit of a lasting solution is perhaps even more dangerous to the goals many of us share," he said on Saturday.

So that's it, then. If Rubio ever needs to bolt, you can already see the reason he'll give. It was Sen. Harry Reid, in the cloakroom, with the calendar.

This is a tricky game Rubio is playing. He's trying to assure conservatives that he's skeptical of this process and could walk away at any moment. But it would be disastrous for him to actually walk away at any moment.

The point of many of Rubio's moves in recent months has been to capture the credit for leading immigration reform. But that ups the stakes if Rubio walks and the effort fails. There's no particular shame in being a first-term senator with little involvement in yet another failed attempt to remake the immigration system. But Rubio has made himself into the key emissary to conservatives on the issue. The flip side to the credit Rubio will reap if immigration reform succeeds is that he'll take much of the blame if it fails.

That would leave Rubio in a very awkward place. If conservatives end up turning on immigration, they'll be angry he let it get as far as it did. But those who wanted to see immigration reform will, in large part, blame Rubio for its demise. It would be the worst of both worlds, and given that this is Rubio's only major legislative initiative to date, it's hard to see a successful 2016 presidential campaign rising atop that foundation.

Wonkbook's Number of the Day: 20,000 to 200,000. That's the range in the number of guest-worker visas in the plan negotiated by the AFL-CIO and the Chamber of Commerce. The number will swing towards 20,000 when the economy is weak, and labor markets are slack; the number will rise towards 200,000 when the economy is strong and needs additional labor. More below.

Wonkblog's Graph of the Day: American imports of manufactured goods.

Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: 1) last dance on immigration reform; 2) gun control readies for prime time; 3) Maryland, a health care success story; 4) American manufacturing's invisible revival; and 5) House Republicans want to revamp small-business taxes.

1) Top story: Has immigration reform landed?

Immigration reform clears a big hurdle: the guest-worker program. "After contentious negotiations, the AFL-CIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce agreed Friday evening on a new low-wage visa program—a major breakthrough in what had been the biggest stumbling block in Senate talks...The agreement between labor and business would allow between 20,000 and 200,000 immigrants to come to the U.S. each year to work in year-round, low-wage jobs; the number would depend on economic conditions." Sara Murray and Patrick O'Connor in The Wall Street Journal.

@mattyglesias: Once the AFL-CIO and Chamber of Commerce reach a deal on immigration reform all we’ll need is a majority in the House & 60 Senators.

Schumer: We're at the end. "The Senate’s third-ranking Democrat said Sunday that the bipartisan Senate group working on an effort to reform the nation’s immigration laws has resolved all major policy issues. “With the agreement between business and labor, every major policy issue has been resolved on the ‘Gang of Eight,’” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who is a member of the bipartisan group working on a broad overhaul, said on NBC News’s “Meet The Press.” “Now, everyone, we’ve all agreed that we’re not going to come to a final agreement until we see draft legislative language and we agree on that. We drafted some of it already, the rest of it will be drafted this week.”" Sean Sullivan in The Washington Post.

...But Sen. Rubio wants some time. "As a bipartisan Senate group builds momentum toward a comprehensive immigration reform bill this month, resistance is coming from an unexpected source: Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, a key member of the coalition...“Reports that the bipartisan group of eight senators have agreed on a legislative proposal are premature,” he said in a statement." David Nakamura in The Washington Post.

@jeffzeleny: In statement tonight, Schumer says of guest worker: "This issue has always been the dealbreaker on immigration reform, but not this time."

Is a white conservative backlash coming to immigration reform? "Hazleton has faded from the national attention it drew with its Illegal Immigration Relief Act in 2006. But as Republicans in Congress advance plans to provide a path to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants in the country, the city presents a test case of whether the party risks leaving behind a critical part of its core constituency: white working-class voters for whom illegal immigration stirs visceral reactions." Trip Gabriel in The New York Times.

THE NEW YORK TIMES: The immigration spring. "It has been amazing this year to watch immigration reform, that perennial train wreck of an issue, keep rolling forward without losing steam or blowing up. A bipartisan band of senators called the Gang of Eight has been working steadily for months on a bill; a similar group in the House is doing the same; diverse outside forces are lining up to urge all of them on, and every week seems to bring new reason for optimism." The New York Times Editorial Board.

KLEIN: How immigration reform is scrambling American politics. "The overriding fact driving almost everything that happens in American politics right now is that both elections and governance are zero-sum games between the two parties: For one side to win, the other side has to lose. The sole major exception is immigration reform. On this one issue, both parties — and, importantly, their allied interest groups — see the game as positive sum. They believe they can both win." Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

REES: Immigrants and Americans. "Although there are good political reasons for conservatives to be pro-immigration, the best reasons have to do with principle...[T]he economic arguments for immigration are merely one aspect of a broader commitment to human freedom....[R]estrictive immigration laws represent a decision by those of us who are already here to enforce our own perceived economic advantage, or our aesthetic preferences...Conservatives should also recognize that the country's traditional generosity toward immigrants is an important element of American exceptionalism." Grover Joseph Rees in The Wall Street Journal.

Music recommendations interlude: Micah P. Hinson, "Dyin' Alone."

Top op-eds

AVENT: How government can prod innovation. "America also happens to have benefitted from innovations that directly resulted from a government wildly overstepping its bounds... America's military machine brought brilliant people together, demanded they do work requiring extraordinary computational power, and plied them with the funds to develop and build early computers. That work created expertise, component supply, and even private demand that fueled subsequent private investments. And government remained a significant source of final demand for the output of those later private investments." Ryan Avent in The Economist.

FELDSTEIN: When interest rates rise. "The Fed has pursued its strategy of low long-term interest rates in the hope of stimulating economic activity. At this point, the extent of the stimulus seems very small, and the risk of financial bubbles is increasingly worrying...Even if the major advanced economies’ current monetary strategies do not lead to rising inflation, we may look back on these years as a time when official policy led to individual losses and overall financial instability." Martin Feldstein in Project Syndicate.

KRUGMAN: Lessons from a comeback. "[R]eports of the state’s demise proved premature. Unemployment in California remains high, but it’s coming down — and there’s a projected budget surplus, in part because the implosion of the state’s Republican Party finally gave Democrats a big enough political advantage to push through some desperately needed tax increases. Far from presiding over a Greek-style crisis, Gov. Jerry Brown is proclaiming a comeback." Paul Krugman in The New York Times.

KLEIN: Will the GOP's plan to fight Obamacare in the states backfire? "Republicans, however, haven’t quite given up. Their slogan, “repeal and replace,” has given way to “resist and annoy.” Unable to get rid of Obamacare, many have settled on a strategy of making it function as poorly as possible...The question, though, is whether governors who purposefully do a very bad job implementing Obamacare will hurt the law, or just themselves and their states." Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

SACHS: Long-term thinking needed. "It’s time to move beyond such transitory and piecemeal policies. Our underlying economic problems are chronic, not temporary; structural, not cyclical. To solve them, we need a systematic long-term approach. Consider three priorities for this new, long-range perspective: infrastructure, energy and job skills. With a smart, ambitious strategy in these sectors we can encourage the creation of good jobs and begin to resolve huge problems of competitiveness and the environment." Jeffrey D. Sachs in The New York Times.

LUCE: Inequality will define the Obama era. "Barack Obama has said his biggest goal is to revive the US middle class...Mr Obama has been unable to check America’s most unequal distribution of income since the 1920s. Is it within his means to do so?...Mr Obama has so far failed to convince Washington that a stagnant middle class is bad for US growth. He should keep trying. If the US president means what he says, this is the challenge of his time." Edward Luce in The Financial Times.

SIDES: The Republicans don't need a reboot. "People tend to overestimate how much policy and ideology have to do with election outcomes, which is why the losing party spends so much time debating how to renovate its platform.  But the Republican Party’s loss in 2012 was predictable given only the economic fundamentals. And those same fundamentals could easily give Republicans the presidency in 2016." John Sides in The Washington Post.

Evolution interlude: The written correspondence of Charles Darwin, in online archive form.

2) Gun control ready for prime time

Path opens for gun-control bill to reach Senate floor. "A Democratic gun-control measure moved closer to reaching the Senate floor Sunday when a high-profile Republican said he doesn't plan to join his party's efforts to block it. Despite deep misgivings about the underlying legislation, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told CNN Sunday that he would only join a Republican-led filibuster if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) denied senators the right to offer amendments. Democrats need only a handful of Republican votes to overcome the filibuster, and Mr. Graham's decision suggests an effort to block the measure doesn't enjoy widespread GOP support." Patrick O'Connor and Sarah Portlock in The Wall Street Journal.

How Sen. Reid is handling gun control. "Mr. Reid’s evolution from a proponent of gun rights to the shepherd of legislation that would expand background checks, among other gun control measures, emerges from a complex web of political calculations that have come to define his leadership style over the last decade. How tenacious Mr. Reid is willing to be — and whether he will extract votes one by one as he has for other big pieces of legislation — may well determine the fate of the measures." Jennifer Steinhauer in The New York Times.

Sen. Blumenthal plans to offer amendment for ban on high-capacity ammunition clips. "Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is bringing a gun control bill including provisions to expand background checks and tighten penalties on straw purchasers to the floor. But the measure excludes proposals to ban the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition. With any gun bill facing a tough challenge in the face of GOP and gun lobby opposition, Reid said he feared those two controversial measures would drag down the entire bill. But the Democratic leader has said he would allow votes on those proposals as amendments and Blumenthal said Sunday he would act on that promise." Meghashyam Mali in The Hill.

Historical interlude: When electricity was new.

3) Maryland's healthcare success story

How Maryland is beating healthcare costs. "Maryland officials have proposed what analysts call the most ambitious initiative in the country to control soaring medical spending, a plan that would bring relief to employers and consumers footing the bill while bluntly challenging the state’s powerful hospital industry.The blueprint, which needs the Obama administration’s approval, would use Maryland's unique rate-setting system to keep hospital spending from growing no faster than the overall economy — roughly half its recent rate of increase." Jay Hancock in Kaiser Health News.

Is the legal middle ground on abortion vanishing? "States are becoming increasingly polarized over abortion, as some legislatures pass ever-tighter restrictions on the procedure while others consider stronger legal protections for it, advocates on both sides say...The Guttmacher Institute, a think-tank supportive of abortion rights, says its legislative tracking shows hardening positions in states that are broadly favorable to abortion rights and those that are opposed, as they adopt an increasing number of laws governing access to the procedure. The institute's findings also note a "shrinking middle ground" over the past decade as fewer states maintain a mixed set of policies." Louise Radnofsky in The Wall Street Journal.

Travel interlude: The craziest TripAdvisor reviews, on the "Tripadvisaargh" Tumblr blog.

4) The invisible revival in American manufacturing

A factory revival is hard to see in economic data. "It's true that industrial production has grown twice as fast as the economy as a whole in this recovery, and manufacturers are adding jobs again. But economists see those gains as too small relative to what was lost in previous years to suggest a full-blown revival. Factories fell so hard, the logic goes, some gains are a given." Timothy Aeppel in The Wall Street Journal.

Explainer: Key economic data coming out this weekAmrita Jayakumar in The Washington Post.

Hiring strengthens -- but only 14 out of 100 U.S. cities top pre-recession employment. "Employers are hiring more readily across the U.S., though only 14 of the nation's 100 biggest metropolitan areas have more jobs now than they did before the 2008-09 recession. Six of them are in Texas, according to researchers at the Brookings Institution, who recently analyzed local economic conditions through the end of 2012. All of the 14 appear to have benefited in some way from a stable employment base, anchored by either universities, government agencies or high-tech hubs, helping residents avoid the worst of the job losses suffered by other areas." Amy Schatz in The Wall Street Journal.

The government program that beat the sequester. "The sequester was supposed to be something new in Washington: a budget cut you couldn’t beat. Once it hit, it hit. The money was gone, and nobody could get it back. That turned out to be true — for about three weeks. Then somebody beat it. Last week, President Obama signed a spending bill that gave the Agriculture Department’s food inspectors what everybody else wanted: a get-out-of-the-sequester card. Their program got $55 million in new money, which replaced almost all of what the sequester took." David A. Fahrenthold and Lisa Rein in The Washington Post.

Is this the beginning of the end for monetary stimulus? "At the moment, the Federal Reserve's easy-money policy makes it so that there is enough to go around, bolstering risky and haven assets alike. But the more the U.S. economy improves, the closer investors get to a financial marketplace with less Fed support that can sap the strength from one of these markets." Cynthia Lin in The Wall Street Journal.

Old New York interlude: Meet this 91-year old Brooklyn cobbler.

5) Big ideas for the budget

House GOP envisions sweeping tax reform for small businesses. "The proposals would streamline the tax rules for flow-through entities — companies that do not file their own tax returns but instead are structured to pass their profits or losses directly to their investors, which is how many small businesses are organized...The first alternative mostly tinkers with the rules to make it easier to operate as a flow-through company. The second option would repeal the laws regulating both kinds of entities and replace them with a single set of rules, regardless of whether the company is organized as a corporation or partnership" Robb Mandelbaum in The New York Times.

The Senate wants biennial budgeting, by a 68-31 vote. "The Senate’s recent vote to embrace a biennial budget, coupled with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) endorsement, has significantly boosted the chances it could pass in this Congress. The budget revamp would require the president to propose a budget every other year at the beginning of each Congress. Backers say a biennial budget would give lawmakers more time to focus on oversight and policy areas instead of constantly trying to meet spending deadlines, which are often missed...Isakson successfully passed an amendment [on a 68-31 vote] on the Senate’s non-binding budget resolution on this issue earlier this month." Alex Lazar in The Hill.

Reading material interlude: The best sentences Wonkblog read today.

Wonkblog Roundup

An excerpt from Neil Irwin's new book, "The Alchemists: Three Central Bankers and a World on Fire.Neil Irwin.

Want to sell a candy bar as healthy? Use a green label. Sarah Kliff.

Looking into a future of driverless carsBrad Plumer.

How immigration reform is scrambling American politicsEzra Klein.

Which nation will unravel the Eurozone? Neil Irwin.

Can we all, left and right, unite against the rentiers? Mike Konczal.

No, 2012 didn't prove the Republicans need a reboot. John Sides.

Kevin Ware’s injury is horrible—but men’s basketball is among the safer college sportsSarah Kliff.

Et Cetera

Monday morning longread: OSHA and the festering of long-term health risksIan Urbina in The New York Times.

Bitcoin, a global safe havenPaul Ford in Bloomberg Businessweek.

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

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.

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