Wonkbook: Time is the enemy on immigration reform

April 22, 2013

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U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) (L) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) (2nd L) read documents prior to a hearing on immigration reform on April 19. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) (L) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) (2nd L) read documents prior to a hearing on immigration reform on April 19. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

"I call Washington 'the city of the perishable,'" Nancy Pelosi once told me. Anything left out on the floor of Congress too long runs the risk of spoiling.

The conservatives massing to stop immigration reform agree with Pelosi. This push for immigration reform, they hope, is perishable. And as long as it doesn't come for a vote anytime soon, it can spoil -- or be spoiled.

So they're grasping at anything that can delay it. At Friday's Judiciary Committee hearing, Sen. Chuck Grassley spent his entire opening statement emphasizing the need for less speed. "Unfortunately, I think that we're kind of off to a rough start from the standpoint that the majority is rushing to read and analyze the bill," he said. One unsavory reason he gave for slowing down the bill: "While we don't yet know the immigration status of people who have terrorized the communities in Massachusetts, when we find out, it will help shed light on the weaknesses of our system."

Seeing the danger of tying the Boston bombers to the proposal, Sen. Lindsey Graham replied from the Sunday shows. "What happened in Boston and international terrorism I think should urge us to act quicker, not slower,” he said on CNN, arguing that passing the bill would mean strengthening border security and better tracking who is actually here. Sen. Marco Rubio's office also harshly rebutted Grassley's comments.

The other advantage of slowing the bill down is that it creates an opening to oppose the law -- or at least its progress -- without opposing the law itself. It could even allow some senators to have it both ways. A key dynamic to watch as reform grinds on is where Rubio falls on the calls to endlessly lengthen the schedule. If, as conservative opposition mounts, he joins with those who want a slower process, he could help the anti-immigration forces on their key tactical priorities for killing immigration reform even as he publicly supports the bill itself.

Even if the law passes the Senate, it will be mired in the House. "The bill will be immediately sent to the committees, and then either sent back to the Senate with changes, or rewritten in a bicameral conference committee," reports Robert Costa. "That tweaking process could take months, which is just fine with many Republicans, who’d like the public to have as much time as possible to chew over the controversial elements of Obama’s prized bills. The caucus consensus is: The more time Congress takes to consider a bill, the more time the public has to sour on its components."

There's precedent for this approach. Hill staffers involved in the 2007 immigration fight recall the overwhelming consensus that appeared to greet the bill -- President George W. Bush and Sen. Ted Kennedy and Sen. John McCain! -- and attribute the law's eventual defeat to the effort, mounted by Sen. Jeff Sessions and others, to slow it down, mobilize the conservative grassroots, and use unpopular or divisive parts to undermine the once-unstoppable whole. That will be the strategy this time, too.

Wonkbook's Number of the Day: 70 percent. That's the estimated market share of institutional investors buying up single-family homes in some areas of Florida's real estate market. Actual would-be homeowners aren't reacting as quickly. 

Wonkblog's Graph of the Day: A historical graph of deportations.

Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: 1) immigration reform gets messy; 2) emphasis shifts to economic growth; 3) sequestration arrives; 4) study finds $6-trillion bubble in carbon-intensive investments; and 5) should we tax online sales?

1) Top story: Slower, or faster, on immigration reform?

Should we delay immigration reform? "The revelations [from the Boston bombers] prompted conservative critics of immigration reform to cast doubt on a sweeping 844-page reform bill introduced by an eight-member Senate group this week. At the first Judiciary Committee hearing on the bill Friday, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) questioned whether lawmakers were rushing forward too quickly." David Nakamura and Ed O'Keefe in The Washington Post.

@robertcostaNRO: Immigration reform is in a fragile place. Politically, timing of Boston tragedy has changed pace of DC and made several GOPers more cautious

Advocates of immigration reform fight back against calls for delay. "The Senate’s leading supporters of overhauling the nation’s immigration system sought Sunday to blunt a conservative effort to slow the pace of debate over their bill, saying the Boston Marathon bombings are a reason to move quickly to make changes...Graham’s comments came after conservative commentators and lawmakers began urging a slower pace in considering new laws in light of the investigation into last Monday’s bombings, which killed three people and wounded more than 170." Sean Sullivan and David Nakamura in The Washington Post.

Some conservatives see delay as the best approach to killing an immigration bill. "Several sources close to the leadership say that even if the Senate passes something on immigration, the bill will be immediately sent to the committees, and then either sent back to the Senate with changes, or rewritten in a bicameral conference committee. This means that the chance of the Senate’s Gang of Eight bill coming to the House floor, as is, is nearly non-existent. House Republicans would first have to mull it, schedule hearings, and then tinker with its legislative language. That tweaking process could take months, which is just fine with many Republicans, who’d like the public to have as much time as possible to chew over the controversial elements of Obama’s prized bills. The caucus consensus is: The more time Congress takes to consider a bill, the more time the public has to sour on its components." Robert Costa in the National Review.

The Ted Cruz vs. Marco Rubio dynamic in immigration reform. "Ted Cruz is at odds with Marco Rubio over immigration legislation. The two have much in common as first-term senators elected with the help of the tea party from states with large Latino populations. Both have Cuban roots and are considered rising GOP stars and prospective presidential rivals. But the pair is divided on immigration legislation — a key difference that could have significant ramifications for their party and political ambitions." Manu Raju in Politico.

@noahpinion: Restrictions on immigration, intended to protect native workers, if applied retroactively would prevent the existence of those same workers.

The ugly details inside the immigration bill. "Buried within the 844 pages of the bipartisan immigration bill—amid historic shifts in policies such as a path to citizenship for 11 million unauthorized immigrants—are pet provisions of the senators who crafted it. South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham wants more visas for the meat industry, a major employer in his state. Sen. Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.) pushed for special treatment for Irish workers; his state is home to a large population with Irish ancestry. Republican Sen. Marco Rubio sought help for the cruise-ship industry, a big business in his home state of Florida. And Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado wove in a boost for ski areas." Sara Murray in The Wall Street Journal.

Has the failure of gun control helped the political odds of immigration reform...? "The simple fact is that for Republicans broadly and Democrats in swing states — particularly those up for reelection next year — voting in favor of legislation that would restrict gun rights and overhaul the immigration system was too much to swallow...With the gun bill gone from the legislative calendar for the near future, immigration becomes a more doable vote for conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans — as well as senators with large Hispanic populations in their states." Chris Cillizza in The Washington Post.

@ObsoleteDogma: Trying to come up with something worse than anti-immigration folks demagoguing the attack. Coming up empty. Worse than Glenn Beck's BUY GOLD

...Or has it hurt them? "Some lawmakers fear the failure of gun-control legislation in the Senate could be a bad omen for immigration, deficit reduction and tax reform...The outcome has left many questioning whether the coalitions behind immigration and tax reform are strong enough to overcome the ideological divide in Washington." Russell Berman and Bernie Becker in The Hill.

TIENDA: The important healthcare angle to immigration reform. "My analysis of immigrant-admissions data from the Justice and Homeland Security departments shows that these family-reunification policies are having an unintended consequence. At a time when the U.S. population is growing older, a system that fails to restrict late-age migration will only add to the costs of Medicaid and Medicare...Sponsors are only required to prove that they can support their parents at 1.25 times the poverty level -- hardly enough to guarantee that the parents will have health insurance." Marta Tienda in Bloomberg.

LEONHARDT: Hispanics, the new Italians. "Yet as the Senate begins to debate a major immigration bill, we already know a great deal about how Latinos are faring with that challenge: they’re meeting it, by and large. Whatever Washington does in coming months, a wealth of data suggests that Latinos, who make up fully half of the immigration wave of the past century, are already following the classic pattern for American immigrants." David Leonhardt in The New York Times.

YGLESIAS: To secure the borders, open them. "[W]hile security checks should be done and should be done properly, by far the best way to keep dangerous foreigners out of the country is to make it easier for nondangerous ones to enter. Border security is a wonderful thing. But in the absence of adequate legal channels for immigration, a large human smuggling industry will spring into existence to serve the needs of economic migrants and leave the country more vulnerable to real security risks." Matthew Yglesias in Slate.

Music recommendations interlude: Crosby, Stills & Nash, "Helplessly Hoping," 1969.

Top op-eds

WESSEL: 7 lessons on fixing an economy. "What have the past few years taught us about how to speed recovery after an economy suffers a severe financial shock?...[One is] doing things that are politically (and perhaps economically) painful in the short-run—writing off bad debts, for instance—because they'll pay off later." David Wessel in The Wall Street Journal.

KONCZAL: Bad data is austerity's best friend... "Reinhart/Rogoff-gate isn’t the first time that incorrect data have been a thorn in the side of those seeking austerity and deficit reduction. It’s been a remarkable feature of attempts to “pivot” away from dealing with mass unemployment that they’ve relied in large part on government data to make their points — data that usually turn out to be incorrect." Mike Konczal in The Washington Post.

MUNCHAU: ...As is confirmation bias of policymakers. "[Olli] Rehn [the European Commission’s economic chief] presumably did not read the original papers, which were more ambivalent in their conclusions, as academic papers tend to be. Policy makers, such as Mr Rehn, are always on the lookout for economic theories that seem plausible and accord with their deep beliefs." Wolfgang Munchau in The Financial Times.

KRUGMAN: The jobless trap. "It goes without saying that the explosion of long-term unemployment is a tragedy for the unemployed themselves. But it may also be a broader economic disaster. The key question is whether workers who have been unemployed for a long time eventually come to be seen as unemployable, tainted goods that nobody will buy. This could happen because their work skills atrophy, but a more likely reason is that potential employers assume that something must be wrong with people who can’t find a job, even if the real reason is simply the terrible economy. And there is, unfortunately, growing evidence that the tainting of the long-term unemployed is happening as we speak." Paul Krugman in The Washington Post.

DIONNE: The way forward on guns. "The early evidence is that rage over the cowardly capitulation of so many senators to raw political power is pushing activists against gun violence to redouble their efforts...[T]he next steps are up to the supporters of gun sanity. They can keep organizing to build on the unprecedented effort that went into this fight — or they can give up" E.J. Dionne in The Washington Post.

RIVKIN AND CASEY: A federal shield law for reporters. "News must often be gathered from confidential sources, or not at all. Given how vital is the freedom of the press in a democracy, that confidentiality must be maintained. It is time that Congress recognize this and enact legislation that enables journalists to protect their confidential sources and newsgathering materials...[W]here a national market has developed—as is the case with news and newsgathering—a uniform federal approach to regulation is justifiable." David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey in The Wall Street Journal.

Urban interlude: San Francisco, in 1955, in color.

2) How about some economic growth?

IMF: We want growth. "Leading global financial officials on Saturday pledged faster action to boost growth and job creation in the developed world...The 24 members of the International Monetary and Financial Committee, a collection of finance ministers and other top officials who oversee the International Monetary Fund, had “a meeting of the minds” that the current tepid economic recovery was at risk without faster action." Howard Schneider in The Washington Post.

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

A big change to how we measure GDP. "The US economy will officially become 3 per cent bigger in July as part of a shake-up that will see government statistics take into account 21st century components such as film royalties and spending on research and development. Billions of dollars of intangible assets will enter the gross domestic product of the world’s largest economy in a revision aimed at capturing the changing nature of US output." Robin Harding in The Financial Times.

More subtle, but super important economic news: Household formation is rising. "The gap between actual and potential household formation appears large enough to support spurts of growth and underpin a durable expansion of around 3 percent in some years, the economists led by New York-based Maury N. Harris said in an April 11 report. That outlook is based on the estimate that reducing the 2.3 million gap between the number of actual and potential U.S. households could boost annual consumer spending growth by almost one percentage point." Simon Kennedy in Bloomberg.

How weak economies abroad are a problem for job growth at home. "Troubles overseas are threatening the U.S. recovery for the fourth year in a row. This time it's weakening economies abroad, rather than tumbling financial markets, signaling turbulence ahead. U.S. exports of goods to the European Union are declining outright. Growth in overall U.S. exports has been sputtering for months, after a three-year postrecession surge. And major U.S. companies are reporting increasingly dour overseas outlooks tied to the recession-plagued euro zone and slowing growth in other leading economies such as China." Sudeep Reddy in The Wall Street Journal.

Why Wall Street is betting on that house again. "Big investors are pouring unprecedented amounts of money into real estate hard hit by the housing crash...Real estate executives say institutional investors — who in some cases are bidding on hundreds of homes a day — account for as much as 70 percent of sales in some Florida markets. Over the past two years, analysts say, they also have accounted for a majority of purchases in other parts of the country where housing prices are rebounding sharply." Michael A. Fletcher in The Washington Post.

Musical interlude: Could this acoustic synthesizer change the guitar forever?

3) The sequester arrives

Furloughs finally begin from the sequester. "After months of nervous anticipation, federal workers begin the first major round of furloughs this week, even as much uncertainty remains at some agencies about how much time, if any, employees will lose from their jobs because of mandated spending cuts. About 17,000 employees of the Environmental Protection Agency also face furloughs beginning this week, as do 480 employees of the White House’s Office of Management and Budget." Steve Vogel in The Washington Post.

Wonks, mark your calendars: The IRS has 5 dates you need to know for furloughs. "Acting IRS Commissioner Steven T. Miller said in a memo to agency employees that furloughs would take place on May 24, June 14, July 5, July 22 and August 30, with all “public-facing operations” closing on those dates, including toll-free operations and taxpayer-assistance centers." Josh Hicks in The Washington Post.

The best thing ever interlude: An accordion that plays when you resize the browser window.

4) Are carbon-intensive investments one big bubble?

A $6T bubble in carbon-intensive investments? "Investors in carbon-intensive business could see $6 trillion wasted as policies limiting global warming stop them from exploiting their coal, oil and gas reserves, according to a report. The top 200 oil, gas and mining companies spent $674 billion last year finding and developing fossil fuel resources, according to research by the Carbon Tracker Initiative and a climate-change research unit at the London School of Economics. If this rate continues for the next decade some $6 trillion risks being wasted on “unburnable” or stranded assets, according to the report, released today." Sally Bakewell in Bloomberg.

Europe's cap-and-trade program is in trouble. Can it be fixed? "Over the last few years in Europe, however, there has been a glut of permits. Policymakers initially gave too many away, and then there was a huge recession. So Europe’s emissions are well under the cap and permit prices had been hovering below $9 per ton since 2011. Companies have little incentive to make any drastic changes." Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.

Extraterrestrial interlude: What happens when you wring out a wash cloth in outer space?

5) Should we tax online sales?

Senate planning vote on Internet sales tax bill. "The days of tax-free online shopping could finally be numbered. The Senate is planning to vote on a bill as soon as Monday that would give states the authority to collect sales taxes on all Internet purchases, handing local governments as much as $11 billion per year in added revenue that they are legally owed — but that hasn’t been paid to them for years." Jia Lynn Yang in The Washington Post.

What's the economic case for doing this? "It makes no economic sense to tax sales in shops and over the internet differently. The prohibition is constitutional. In 1992 the Supreme Court ruled that states could not force out-of-state retailers to collect tax on sales to residents unless Congress, which oversees interstate commerce, said so...The economic consequences were relatively minor before Amazon and eBay appeared. Not any more." The Economist.

Reading material interlude: The best sentences Wonkblog read today.

Wonkblog Roundup

Americans who distrust Muslims are likelier to back the war on terrorJohn Sides.

Europe’s cap-and-trade program is in trouble. Can it be fixedBrad Plumer.

Reinhart/Rogoff-gate isn’t the first time austerians have used bad dataMike Konczal.

Et Cetera

The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum opensPeter Baker in The New York Times.

The VA has a big problem of long-overdue disability claimsKevin Freking in The Washington Post.

Work requirements in "food stamps" program feed debateDavid Rogers in Politico.

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

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.

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