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Wonkbook: ‘Simply opposing immigration reform should not be the conservative response’

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.

(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Back in August, I interviewed a top Obama administration official who thought that Obama had won the election on the day he signed the executive order effectively implementing the DREAM Act. That might also have been the day he passed immigration reform.

Republicans hated the move. They said it made it almost impossible to imagine anything constructive coming out of Congress. "The president's announcement really inflamed the politics on both sides, making it harder for Sen. Rubio to find a consensus," said Aex Conant, Rubios' spokesman.

But that executive action is coming to play an outsized, and surprisingly constructive, role in the immigration debate. It's emerged as a key conservative talking point -- in favor of the bill.

Steven Law, president and CEO of American Crossroads, tells the Wall Street Journal's Kimberly Strassel that Obama's executive order proves he would "reshape the system by executive fiat, which is the last thing any conservative should want."

On Thursday, a letter spearheaded by the American Conservative Union and signed by Grover Norquist warned, “Given President Obama’s history of executive action, simply opposing immigration reform should not be the conservative response to this problem.

For the Obama administration, the great trick of immigration reform is somehow making it possible for Republicans to think they're defeating the White House by signing onto legislation the White House favors. One strategy for that has been to hang back from the process and let the Senate -- and, in particular, Senator Marco Rubio -- take the lead.

But the executive order has, surprisingly, proven a key element, too, as it's allowed Republicans to argue that passing a bill will actually take authority and autonomy away from the White House. It's a reminder that in a town where working with the other side is seen as bad politics, the way to get to a compromise might not always be for everyone to play nice with each other.

Wonkbook's Number of the Day: 11.3 percent. That's how much the median closing price for an existing single-family house has risen between the first quarters of 2013 and 2012. The beginning of a rebound is one of the largest stories of this economy -- but it creates new challenges for public policy. More below. 

Wonkblog's Graphs of the Day: Joel Stein is wrong about millennials, and the two Europes.

Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: 1) immigration reform gets amendments; 2) should we plan for debt prioritization?; 3) Obama takes economy tour; 4) new funds for Obamacare enrollment; and 5) housing policy amid the rebound.

1) Top story: Is the opposition to immigration reform crumbling? Or rising?

First major amendment to immigration reform toughens border security. "In a direct appeal to Republicans, the Senate Judiciary Committee made the first major change to the bipartisan immigration bill, agreeing Thursday to require the government to achieve “effective control” of the entire Southern border, not just high-risk areas. This one amendment alone isn’t likely to sway undecided Republicans and guarantee Senate passage, but it helps the Gang of Eight build a case that it’s addressing GOP demands for an open committee process and tighter border security measures." Seung Min Kim and Carrie Budoff Brown in Politico.

Explainer: Here are all 6 amendments that were adoptedAlexander Bolton in The Hill.

...But border security will continue to be an area of conflict. "As the debate began, several Republicans lobbied for a change to the bill, proposed by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), that would require federal law enforcement authorities to establish operational control of the entire border for six months before allowing any of the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants to earn legal status...The committee rejected the Grassley amendment by a vote of 12-6, with all 10 Democrats and two Republicans rejecting it. But the debate foreshadowed potential problems for the comprehensive bill as it makes its way through the Senate and, potentially, the GOP-controlled House." David Nakamura in The Washington Post.

@dcbigjohn: Ted Cruz basically says he's a no on immigration bill "This bill will not pass"

GOP senators make it slow going on immigration reform. "The contentious beginning of the debate in the Senate, where the bill’s prospects for approval are considerably better than in the House, was a clear signal of tough times as the legislation moves forward...During a 7.5-hour hearing, the Judiciary Committee wrestled over 32 proposed changes focused on border security and control as the committee began a long and grueling amendment process that is expect to last weeks" David Nakamura and Ed O'Keefe in The Washington Post.

Liveblog: The Senate's immigration debatesEd O'Keefe in The Washington Post.

Opposition emerges from deportation agents and sheriffs. "The leader of a union representing federal immigration deportation agents has joined two dozen sheriffs in sending a letter to Congress warning that the sweeping immigration bill under consideration in the Senate is weak on border security and would hamper the work of law enforcement officers. The letter sharply criticizes the legislation, saying that the border security measures, which are a linchpin of its overall strategy, do not have real force." Julia Preston in The New York Times.

Deportees see a second hope. "No previous Congressional effort to change immigration law has offered such a broad, swift reprieve to people deported by the government. The bill, introduced last month, would give a legal second chance to tens of thousands of deportees without serious criminal records who have a child, parent or spouse with a green card or American citizenship. Many deportees brought to the United States before their 16th birthday would be eligible to return as well. Even in a bill overflowing with ambitious and controversial proposals, the deportee measure is becoming one of the most contested elements — a humanitarian necessity to some; to others, a shameful reward for lawbreakers." Damien Cave in The New York Times.

@TPCarney: If we select for anything in immigration, I'd select for people who want to become U.S. citizens.

Liberals wring hands over fate of same-sex amendment to immigration bill. "Sen. Chuck Schumer, a leader of the Senate Gang of Eight, would not commit Thursday to voting for an amendment in the immigration bill that would allow gay Americans to sponsor their foreign partners for green cards. Schumer stressed that he backs the amendment, but all four Republican negotiators say they would not be able to support the immigration bill if the language were included." Seung Min Kim in Politico.

Heritage is running for cover. "The Heritage Foundation has gone into damage-control mode in the last few days, after coming under fire from Republicans and conservative outside groups over a report it published that puts the price tag of immigration reform at $6.3 trillion. The conservative think tank is considering hiring a high-profile public relations firm to help deal with the fallout of the report that was supposed to be their big play in the immigration debate, according to two sources familiar with Heritage." Anna Palmer and Kenneth P. Vogel in Politico. 

...More on Jason Richwine: He wrote for a 'nationalist' website. "Heritage Foundation analyst Jason Richwine, the co-author of a study claiming the immigration reform bill pending in the Senate would cost taxpayers $6.3 trillion, wrote two articles in 2010 for a website founded by Richard Spencer, a self-described "nationalist" who writes frequently about race and against "the abstract notion of human equality."...The website has published several controversial pieces about nationalism and race since Spencer founded it three years ago. Spencer is now the chairman of the Montana-based National Policy Institute, an organization that describes itself as a think tank for "White Americans."" Chris Moody in Yahoo! News.

HENNESSEY: Heritage study was so poorly prepared. "Heritage incorporates all of the baseline costs in their $6.3 trillion estimate of “amnesty.” By measuring total rather than marginal costs, they are telling us the cost of making millions of people legal relative to the cost of somehow finding and deporting all of them. Setting aside my view that such an alternative is infeasible, it is inaccurate to describe such an estimate as the cost of amnesty. It is instead the cost of amnesty relative to some other state of the world that Heritage would prefer. That is both misleading and not particularly useful to policymakers." Keith Hennessey on his blog.

STRASSEL: Forget conservative division on immigration. The real story is their support. "The media glory in conflict, and so they devoted this week to the angry feud/war/battle in the GOP over immigration reform. The evidence? One research document from one think tank. The real news is the growing unity among conservative leaders and groups over the need to at least embrace the challenge of reform. This is no 2007...The right's budding embrace of reform reflects something bigger, an effort to reclaim principles that appeal to broad swaths of the public. The other side—the Heritages, the National Reviews, the Jeff Sessions—are still channeling the party's more angry, reactive element." Kimberley Strassel in The Wall Street Journal.

Music recommendations interlude: Travis, "Side," 2001.

Top op-eds

KOHUT AND DIMOCK: The strong values of the poor. "In a newly released report for the Council on Foreign Relations’ Renewing America series, we found little indication that beliefs in the efficacy of hard work, individualism and potential for personal progress have eroded in response to the struggling recovery of the past four years...This finding is contrary to worries expressed by the social scientist Charles Murray and others that American civic culture is at risk of breaking down at the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum...If anything, less-affluent Americans are more convinced of the importance of work than are more economically successful Americans." Andrew Kohut and Michael Dimock in Bloomberg.

DEPARLE: In praise of Obamacare. "Soon the Affordable Care Act will add a new chapter to this history of real-world success. Critics say the law is complex. They are right. When Obama first took office, 51 million Americans were uninsured, premiums had more than doubled in the preceding decade, and insurers could deny coverage to those who needed it most. If easy solutions existed, someone would have found them long ago." Nancy-Ann DeParle in The Washington Post.

KRUGMAN: Bernanke, blower of bubbles. "For one important subtext of all the recent bubble rhetoric is the demand that Mr. Bernanke and his colleagues stop trying to fight mass unemployment, that they must cease and desist their efforts to boost the economy or dire consequences will follow. In fact, however, there isn’t any case for believing that we face any broad bubble problem, let alone that worrying about hypothetical bubbles should take precedence over the task of getting Americans back to work. Mr. Bernanke should brush aside the babbling barons of bubbleism, and get on with doing his job." Paul Krugman in The New York Times.

FELDSTEIN: Quantitative easing hasn't worked. "[D]espite the Fed's current purchases of $85 billion a month and an accumulation of more than $2 trillion of long-term assets, the economy is limping along with per capita gross domestic product rising at less than 1% a year. Although it is impossible to know what would happen without the central bank's asset purchases, the data imply that very little increase in GDP can be attributed to the so-called portfolio-balance effect of the Fed's actions." Martin Feldstein in The Wall Street Journal.

SKIDELSKY: What Keynes really thought about the long run. "Keynes’s focus on the short run was grounded in the philosophical principle of “insufficient reason.” If individuals have no sufficient reason to believe that a good situation today will have adverse long-term consequences, it must always be rational for them to aim to maximize their short-term good...Keynes would have rejected the claim of today’s austerity champions that short-term pain, in the form of budget cuts, is the price we need to pay for long-term economic growth. The pain is real, he would say, while the benefit is conjecture." Robert Skidelsky in The Washington Post.

OSTERHOLM: The most important reason for public-health spending. "The world as whole must invest in a new generation of effective influenza and coronavirus vaccines. They are the ultimate insurance policy against similar future emerging viruses. These viruses may seem far away, but tomorrow they could be at America’s doorstep." Michael T. Osterholm in The New York Times.

BROOKS: Starting at the bottom. "They seemed both hardy and a bit naïve, made more resilient by reality but not jaded by it. Their conversational styles were enthusiastic, grateful, direct and earnest. They seemed to us unself-conscious about how they present themselves — unironic, matter of fact, sincere and un-meta — not tripping in loops of self-awareness. They also have a less methodical sense of the exact steps you have to take to make it in the world." David Brooks in The New York Times.

Lectures interlude: Why wouldn't you watch a talk by Martin Scorsese on movies?

2) House passes prioritization plan

House approves plan to pay creditors, Social Security if US overshoots debt limit. "The Republican-controlled House narrowly approved a plan Thursday to protect U.S. bondholders and Social Security recipients if the nation breaches the federal debt limit later this year. With every Democrat and eight Republicans voting no, the measure passed 221 to 207 and headed to the Democrat-controlled Senate, where it faces certain death. President Obama has threatened to veto the measure, which Democrats have dubbed the “Pay China First” bill." Lori Montgomery in The Washington Post.

Sen. Murray has just about had it with the Republicans on budgeting. "Republicans once again rejected Democrats’ unanimous consent agreement to form a conference committee on the House and Senate budgets on Thursday. Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said Republicans are holding the budget process “hostage” after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) objected for a fifth time to appointing conferees to work out the massive difference between the House and Senate budget resolutions." Ramsey Cox in The Hill.

Science funding cuts fuel brain drain. "Across the country, budget cuts -- made worse by sequestration -- are squeezing dollars, and consequently trained personnel, from the science and medical research communities. Researchers like Pande, eager to make the next big breakthrough, are now seeing limited opportunities to pursue their goals. Those who've spent years in academia are finding out that their degrees aren't opening doors or checkbooks, and some are just dropping out altogether." Sam Stein in The Huffington Post.

How a falling deficit is changing the debate. "Rising government revenue from tax collections and bailout paybacks are shrinking the federal deficit faster than expected, delaying the point when the government will reach the so-called debt ceiling and altering the budget debate in Washington...At the same time, steadily if historically slow economic growth and changes in tax laws that raised rates in January have pushed other government revenue up. The Congressional Budget Office now calculates the federal deficit through the first seven months of the fiscal year that began in October is $231 billion less than the deficit was at this time a year ago, thanks in part to an estimated 16% increase in tax revenue." Damian Paletta in The Wall Street Journal.

More charts interlude: Congress' saddest chart.

3) Obama takes economy tour

On tour, Obama showcases Austin, TX economy. "President Obama swooped into the booming Austin area on Thursday to showcase manufacturing growth and technology innovation as he began a series of visits across the country designed to pressure Congress to pass his economic agenda. Making stops in and around the Texas capital, Obama called anew on lawmakers to act on ideas he laid out in February’s State of the Union address to expand the middle class by investing in new jobs and job training." Philip Rucker in The Washington Post.

Jobless applications fall to lowest since 2008. "The number of Americans who applied for unemployment benefits fell by 4,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 323,000, a five-year low. Layoffs have returned to prerecession levels, a trend that could lead to more hiring...The Labor Department said on Thursday that the less volatile four-week average of new jobless claims dropped 6,250, to 336,750. That is the fewest since November 2007, a month before the recession began." The Associated Press.

So why is Wall Street not so happy? "Here’s what seems to really be making the investor class so angst-ridden over easy money policies out of the central banks. Over the last few years, it has felt like the usual rules do not apply: Zero interest rates from the Fed haven’t sparked inflation; interest rates have fallen despite huge government deficits; and the stock market has risen steadily in the face of a still-weak economy. Someone who had invested money in a diversified, passively managed mix of stocks and bonds has had a very good four years of returns. Meanwhile someone who used aggressive trading strategies may have lost a boatload of money if he or she bet wrong." Neil Irwin in The Washington Post.

...And the cost of some bailouts have fallen. "The net cost of another major rescue program, the Troubled Asset Relief Program, has fallen to less than $23 billion, a fraction of the $419 billion the Treasury has disbursed to struggling companies since 2008." Jeffrey Sparshott in The Wall Street Journal.

Obama wants to reduce student debts. "The White House proposes that the government forgive billions of dollars in student debt over the next decade, a plan that cheers student advocates, but critics say it would expand a program that already encourages students to borrow too much and stick taxpayers with the bill. The proposal, included in President Barack Obama's budget for next year, would increase the number of borrowers eligible for a program known casually as income-based repayment, which aims to help low-income workers stay current on federal student debt." Josh Mitchell and Douglas Belkin in The Wall Street Journal.

Online sales tax faces steeper climb in House. "After passing with bipartisanship support in the Senate, an online sales tax proposal faces a much more difficult path in the House of Representatives, with opposition already mounting from tax-averse Republicans. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) earlier this week said he “probably” will not support the legislation, which he believes places too heavy of a burden on online merchants by requiring them to begin calculating and charging varying sales tax rates depending on where they are shipping their products." J.D. Harrison in The Washington Post.

Eschersketch interlude: Wow, this web drawing tool is incredibly entertaining

4) New funds for Obamacare enrollment

HHS issues new funds for Obamacare enrollment efforts. "The Health and Human Services (HHS) Department will spend $150 million on enrollment assistance through community health centers, which serve an estimated 21 million patients annually. The funding comes as Democrats are expressing concerns about implementation of the landmark law. Polls show that few people understand it, or how they might benefit." Elise Viebeck in The Hill.

First Obamacare ad doesn't dare speak its name. "While some national groups are holding off on their pitch – waiting until the exchanges get closer to launch before hawking the new options – Colorado is not wasting any time. You can expect to see similar ad campaigns roll out elsewhere in the country as Oct. 1, the date that exchanges open for enrollment, gets nearer. Perhaps the most notable fact about the Colorado ads is that they lack a single mention of health reform, the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare. Instead, the print ad just mentions that new options will be “starting in October.”" Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

Hospital billing varies widely, new government data shows. "Data being released for the first time by the government on Wednesday shows that hospitals charge Medicare wildly differing amounts — sometimes 10 to 20 times what Medicare typically reimburses — for the same procedure, raising questions about how hospitals determine prices and why they differ so widely. The data for 3,300 hospitals, released by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, shows wide variations not only regionally but among hospitals in the same area or city." Barry Meier, Jo Craven McGinty, and Julie Creswell in The New York Times.

Paul Ryan predicts Obamacare will 'collapse.' "House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) predicted that President Obama's landmark healthcare reform law will soon "collapse under its own weight," giving the GOP an opportunity to propose a free-market alternative." Elise Viebeck in The Hill.

KY governor backs Medicaid expansion. "Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear said Thursday he supports the Medicaid expansion in President Obama's healthcare law — the last Democratic governor to sign on. Republican-controlled legislatures have killed the Medicaid expansion in some states where the governor has embraced it, and the same could happen in Kentucky. But Beshear's endorsement at least sews up support from all of the country's Democratic governors, in addition to several high-profile Republicans." Sam Baker in The Hill.

Obama officials to roll out new tool to link climate and health research. "The Obama administration has launched an online tool to bolster research into links between climate change and health and inform “more effective responses.” The interagency U.S. Global Change Research Program on Thursday unveiled its Metadata Access Tool for Climate and Health (MATCH) platform. “It is a publicly accessible digital platform for searching and integrating metadata ... extracted from more than 9,000 health, environment, and climate-science datasets held by six Federal agencies,” said Tom Armstrong, executive director of the interagency climate program, in a blog post." Ben German in The Hill.

Adorable animals interlude: Animals trying not to fall asleep.

5) Housing policy amid the rebound

Feel the housing rebound. "Home prices in metropolitan areas saw their biggest year-over-year gains in more than seven years in the first quarter, evidence that the housing recovery is spreading across the nation. The National Association of Realtors said Thursday that the national median closing price for an existing single-family house was $176,600 in the first quarter, up 11.3% from the first quarter of 2012. That was the largest year-over-year gain since the end of 2005. Of the 150 metro areas tracked by the NAR, sale prices rose in 133 and declined in 17." Robbie Whelan in The Wall Street Journal.

Fannie's head doesn't want profitability to slow reform. "Fannie Mae will make a $59.4 billion dividend payment to the U.S. Treasury, the company said Thursday after reporting a record first-quarter profit. But its chief executive warned against allowing the company's return to profitability delay a revamp of it and its smaller sibling, Freddie Mac...Mr. Mayopoulos said he was concerned that Fannie's return to profitability might induce policy makers to shirk from taking action soon to determine the future of the company and the nation's broader $10 trillion mortgage market." Nick Timiraos in The Wall Street Journal.

Reading material interlude: The best sentences Wonkblog read today.

Wonkblog Roundup

China doesn't want to buy our garbage anymore. Brad Plumer.

How colleges are wooing the rich and sticking the poor with the billDylan Matthews.

3 charts on how the world could end extreme poverty by 2030Brad Plumer.

Labor at a crossroadsEzra Klein.

The two Europes, in one chartNeil Irwin.

First Obamacare ad campaign doesn’t mention ObamacareSarah Kliff.

Why are hedge fund titans so upset about the stock market boomNeil Irwin.

The shocking truth behind the saddest chart in CongressBrad Plumer.

Et Cetera

Minnesota House approves gay marriageAssociated Press.

Senators boycott confirmation vote for EPA nomineeDarryl Fears in The Washington Post.

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

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.



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