Wonkbook: House Republicans do the math on immigration reform

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(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The conventional wisdom around Washington these days is that the Republican Party needs to pass immigration reform if it's going to survive. But remember: House Republicans aren't the same thing as "the Republican Party." And they probably don't need to pass immigration reform to keep their majority. In fact, passing immigration reform -- at least with a path to citizenship -- might put them in more danger. Two figures from Janet Hook in the Wall Street Journal show why.

First, "only 38 of the House's 234 Republicans, or 16%, represent districts in which Latinos account for 20% or more of the population."

Second, "only 28 Republican-held districts are considered even remotely at risk of being contested by a Democratic challenger, according to the nonpartisan Cook Political Report."

So for about 200 of the House's Republicans, a primary challenge by conservatives angry over "amnesty" is probably a more realistic threat than defeat at the hands of angry Hispanic voters, or even angry Democrats. "Our guys actually do primary over immigration," a top House Republican aide who wants to get immigration done told me.

Of course, that leaves some 34 Republicans who have reason to fear a Democratic challenge. And it leaves dozens who privately support immigration reform and don't have much to fear from either Democratic or Republican challengers.

In theory, that's enough. If 218 members of the House sign a "discharge petition," the bill comes to the floor whether Speaker John Boehner wants it there or not. Democrats have 201 members who could sign on. If 17 Republicans joined them, they could bring the Senate immigration bill, or any other immigration bill, to a vote.

In practice, though, discharge petitions are extremely rare. As Jonathan Bernstein writes, "It's one thing to vote against the party on substance; it's a much bigger deal to work with Democrats to gain control of the House floor." Unless the discharge petition was the leadership's preferred approach to bring a bill to the floor, the reprisals against the rebels would be tremendous.

All of which is to say, there are, in practice, two reasons an immigration bill with a path to citizenship might pass the House. The first is that enough House Republicans think it's good policy. The second is that enough House Republicans think it's good politics. What's not going to push the bill through the House is House Republicans believing it needs to pass for them to keep their seats and their majority in the next election. If anything, that math might be slightly against immigration reform.

Wonkbook's Number of the Day: 37/50. That's the share of U.S. states that don't recognize same-sex marriages.

Wonkblog's Graphs of the Day: inequality.is, from the Economic Policy Institute.

Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: 1) immigration in the House; 2) Supreme Court fallout; 3) Fed tries to untie tongue; 4) Obamacare in town halls; and 5) does Snowden have more.

1) Top story: Can immigration reform dance to House music?

Immigration's uphill climb in the House. "Most Republicans represent solidly conservative districts where they are unlikely to face a serious Democratic challenge. For them, the clear political incentive is to stand firmly in opposition to the Senate bill. House Democrats generally represent reliably liberal districts, many with significant Hispanic populations. For them, supporting the immigration bill, with its path to citizenship, is also a clear choice politically. With few House members of either party feeling pressure to make any concessions, the politics of the House go a long way toward explaining why the prospects for the legislation are uncertain as it moves to the House from the Senate." Janet Hook in The Wall Street Journal.

Explainer: The discharge petition’s role in the immigration reform debate. Max Ehrenfreund in The Washington Post.

Construction lobbyists fall short in push for more foreign workers. "The sprawling Senate immigration legislation now headed to the House is packed with provisions designed to help businesses hire foreign workers, whether for computer labs in Silicon Valley, cruise ships docked in Florida and other U.S. ports, or seafood-processing centers in Alaska. Yet in the frenetic push by K Street to cram in as many new guest-worker visas as possible, lobbyists for one industry came up short: construction. While industry advocates say the companies will need to hire more than 200,000 new workers per year, under the Senate bill the number of foreign-worker construction visas can never exceed 15,000 per year." Peter Wallsten in The Washington Post.

@daveweigel: Things Lew has said will happen despite "bumps in the road" - economic comeback, immigration bill. #aspenideas

Schumer: House will pass Senate immigration bill. "Sequestration did hit, on March 1. And since then, the $85 billion budget cut has caused real reductions in many federal programs that people depend on. But it has not produced what the Obama administration predicted: widespread breakdowns in crucial government services. The Washington Post recently checked 48 of those dire predictions about sequestration’s impact. Just 11 have come true, and some effects are worse than forecast...In some cases, politicians transferred cuts from high-value programs to lower-value ones. Employee travel was limited. Maintenance deferred. But in other cases, they found “cuts” that didn’t cause much real-world pain." Rachel Weiner in The Washington Post.

How other countries handle immigration reform. "Canada: To combat a shortage of skilled labor that has been stifling the country's economic growth since the 1970s, Canada has adopted one of the most open immigration policies in the world. As of 2010, the foreign-born population makes up 21.3 percent of the country's total population." Brett Line and Linda Poon in National Geographic.

BUSH AND BOLICK: The Republican case for immigration reform. "No Republican would vote for legislation that stifled economic growth, promoted illegal immigration, added to the welfare rolls, and failed to ensure a secure border. Yet they essentially will do just that if they fail to pass comprehensive immigration reform—and leave in place a system that does all of those things." Jeb Bush and Clint Bolick in The Wall Street Journal.

CROVITZ: Accept victory on immigration. "Conservatives in the House should accept victory and pass a bill embracing the Senate's fundamental changes in immigration law that not even Ronald Reagan could accomplish: a focus on the economics of immigration and new legal routes to welcome more skilled immigrants, bolstering American competitiveness. This is the time to act, considering that the U.S. is losing the global competition for the best and brightest immigrants for the first time since the founding of the country—just as Washington needs all the new productive taxpayers it can find." L. Gordon Crovitz in The Wall Street Journal.

Music recommendations interlude: Santana, "Primavera," 1999.

Top op-eds

MANKIW: Why Jason Furman is awesome. "For economists working for politicians, as both Jason and I have, there is an inevitable tension between where the logic of the discipline leads you and what your political allies would like to hear...In Jason’s case, an issue on which he parts ways with many of his political allies concerns the retailing giant Wal-Mart. Unions are traditional supporters of the Democratic Party, and over the years they have often been critical of Wal-Mart’s business practices." N. Gregory Mankiw in The New York Times.

KONCZAL: Legalizing marijuana is hard. Regulating a pot industry is even harder. "It’s not every day that a former Microsoft executive holds a press conference to announce his new venture into the exciting and profitable world of drug dealing. But that’s exactly what happened earlier this month when Jamen Shively, a former Microsoft corporate strategy manager, announced that he wants to create the equivalent of Starbucks in the newly legalized pot industry in Washington state." Mike Konczal in The Washington Post.

KLEIN: Don't be afraid of fast zombies. "The zombies in the new film “World War Z” are too fast to be truly scary. That may be a sacrilegious observation in some nerd circles, but it’s a key insight derived from epidemiology and, zombies aside, it has serious implications for global health...Although fast zombies appear much scarier on-screen, their speed is their weakness. Or, to be more exact, their speed is their virus’s weakness." Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

FUKUYAMA: The middle-class revolution. "The theme that connects recent events in Turkey and Brazil to each other, as well as to the 2011 Arab Spring and continuing protests in China, is the rise of a new global middle class. Everywhere it has emerged, a modern middle class causes political ferment, but only rarely has it been able, on its own, to bring about lasting political change. Nothing we have seen lately in the streets of Istanbul or Rio de Janeiro suggests that these cases will be an exception." Francis Fukuyama in The Wall Street Journal.

DIONNE: What Burke has to teach today's conservatives. "Burke’s conservatism was based on a proper understanding of that word. He believed in preserving the social order and respecting old habits. He persistently warned against the destructive character of radical change. He was wary of ideology and grand ideas, rejecting, as Norman puts it, “universal claims divorced from an actual social context.” Burke saw the well-ordered society as a “partnership of the dead, the living and the yet to be born,” a nice formula for a forward-looking traditionalism." E.J. Dionne in The Washington Post.

Japanese interlude: This fruit dance is bananas.

2) The Court's fallout

House might not fix Voting Rights Act, Goodlatte says. "House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said Sunday that his panel will hold hearings on the Voting Rights Act following last week’s Supreme Court ruling that struck down a central portion of the law, but said there was no guarantee of legislation. “We will hold hearings on this next month, we will look at what the Supreme Court was talking about in terms of old data, we will look at what new data is available, and we will make sure that peoples freedom to vote in elections in this country is protected,” Goodlatte said." Ben German in The Hill.

Explainer: Race and voting after the Voting Rights Act: What you need to knowJohn Sides in The Washington Post.

Ginsburg, Thomas spar over race; court likely to get more affirmative-action cases. "The only real debate — and it was an interesting one — came from Ginsburg, the only justice willing to say that UT’s policy passed muster, and Justice Clarence Thomas, the only one who wrote to say that the university’s use of race is categorically prohibited by the Constitution...Ginsburg said that racial considerations should be allowed, and that the use should be freely acknowledged." Robert Barnes in The Washington Post.

California begins granting same-sex marriages. "Proposition 8 backers petitioned Justice Anthony Kennedy, who oversees the Ninth Circuit, arguing that the appeals court should have waited 25 days—the time generally required before high court rulings become final. On Sunday, Justice Kennedy denied the petition without comment, a court spokesman said...Same-sex weddings, which had begun under a California Supreme Court ruling until ended by the November 2008 Proposition 8 vote, resumed Friday almost immediately after the Ninth Circuit lifted its stay of the district-court ruling." Jess Bravin in The Wall Street Journal.

For gay marriage, the battle now moves to the states. "Gay rights activists are pushing ahead with a well-financed, coordinated campaign that aims to legalize same-sex marriage in about a dozen key states within three years. But they face fierce resistance from conservative groups and their allies in state legislatures and Congress who hope to stymie any momentum coming out of the past week’s rulings on the issue. This pitched political battle — which has cost each side millions of dollars and is poised to escalate — will help determine how broadly same-sex marriage is adopted over the coming decade or longer." Juliet Eilperin and Ruth Tam in The Washington Post.

Pelosi hoping for legalized gay marriage nationally in five years. "The Democratic leader said she is "optimistic that the momentum is with ending discrimination.” Pelosi called the speed with which public perception is changing in favor of gay marriage "encouraging."" Alexandra Jaffe in The Hill.

Has the U.S. reached 'marriage equality'? Not yet. ""For example, there’s no anti-discrimination legislation against lesbian and gay people on a national level,” she said. “There’s been an executive order to protect employees of the federal government but nothing more than that.” As an example of how little has changed on the federal level, Fetner likes to bring up how the Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) that prohibits “employee discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity” fares on Capitol Hill. It’s been proposed almost every year for the past two decades. The response? It dies in committee almost every year." Ruth Tam in The Washington Post.

How DOMA’s departure could cost gay couples money. "For those same-sex marriages that the federal government does recognize — and again, the IRS uses a “place of residence” standard, so this could be limited to couples in states where same-sex marriage is legal until the Obama administration takes further action — joint filing will be available as an option. But that’s actually probably a bad thing for the couples involved. Same-sex marriages are more likely to be dual-earner, which means they’re likelier to see a marriage penalty. A 2004 CBO report predicted that recognizing same-sex marriage would mildly increase revenue for exactly this reason." Dylan Matthews in The Washington Post.

Private companies grapple with Supreme Court’s DOMA decision. "Because employment benefits are regulated by both state and federal laws, it is unclear what changes, if any, must be made by companies in the 37 states that do not recognize gay marriage. In those states, employees with same-sex spouses may be entitled to more rights under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, which allows workers to take job-protected leave for family reasons, including caring for a spouse." Catherine Ho in The Washington Post.

Retro interlude: Computer viruses in action.

3) Fed tries to untie tongue

Fed officials spend week trying to calm investors’ fears of rising interest rates. "Top officials at the Federal Reserve spent the past week trying to reassure anxious investors that the central bank’s target interest rate will remain low even as it prepares to scale back its multibillion-dollar stimulus effort. In separate public remarks this week, nine of the Fed’s top brass emphasized that their decisions would be guided by the condition of the economy...The parade of Fed speeches was notable not only because of the sheer number, but also because the officials sounded the same note of caution." Ylan Q. Mui in The Washington Post.

Markets are looking forward to a world without the Fed's easing. "The impact on financial markets from an anticipated shift in Fed policy in the second half of the year is now a matter of intense debate. In the past week, senior Fed officials have sought to reassure markets the central bank would withdraw its assistance gradually and only if the U.S. economy appeared strong enough. But some investors said they were bracing for more tumult in the months ahead, as markets face a new, uncertain world...The stock market has since swung down and then up as investors tried to predict the fallout." E.S. Browning in The Wall Street Journal.

Q&A: IMF director Christine LagardeHoward Schneider in The Washington Post.

Consumer sentiment in June maintains 6-yr. high. "[O]ptimism among higher-income families rose to its strongest level in six years, a survey released on Friday showed. The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan’s final reading on the overall index on Americans’ consumer sentiment was 84.1 points, slightly below the 84.5 in May. The new figure was higher than the preliminary reading of 82.7. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast the final June reading of 82.8." Reuters.

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

Wary investors are turning to catch. "Bond and stock mutual and exchange-traded funds saw outflows of $19.96 billion in the week ended Wednesday, according to Thomson Reuters unit Lipper. This data covers funds that report weekly. That's the biggest outflow since August 2011, as the euro-zone debt crisis was intensifying and worries about the U.S. debt ceiling were coming to a head." Mike Cherney in The Wall Street Journal.

They said sequestration would be scary. They were (mostly) wrong. "The Washington Post recently checked 48 of those dire predictions about sequestration’s impact. Just 11 have come true, and some effects are worse than forecast. But 24 predictions have not come to pass. In 13 cases, agencies said it is too soon to know. So many predictions fell short because, in recent months, the administration and Congress did what was supposed to be impossible: They undid many of sequestration’s scariest reductions." David Fahrenthold and Lisa Rein in The Washington Post.

Running interlude: Sportscaster vs. athlete in 40-yd. dash.

4) Obamacare, coming to your town hall

Report: White House looks to local officials to promote Obamacare. "The White House is recruiting mayors, county commissioners and other local officials to promote and carry out President Obama’s health care law in states like Florida and Texas, where governors are hostile to it...To reduce those numbers, White House officials met recently with state library officials. Consumers often turn to public libraries for information about government services, and the American Library Association is telling its members to expect a “rush of patrons” who will need help completing insurance application forms." Robert Pear in The New York Times.

Mississippi is in trouble. "Tens of thousands of uninsured residents in the poorest and most rural parts of Mississippi may be unable to get subsidies to buy health coverage when a new online marketplace opens this fall because private insurers are avoiding a wide swath of the state. No insurer is offering to sell plans through the federal health law’s marketplaces in 36 of the state’s 82 counties, including some of the poorest parts of the Delta region, said Mississippi Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney. As a result, 54,000 people who may qualify for subsidized coverage would be unable to get it, estimates the Center for Mississippi Health Policy, a nonpartisan research group." Julie Appleby and Jay Hancock in Kaiser Health News and The Washington Post.

Getting contraceptives under Obamacare is getting complicated. "The Obama administration wants to require all employer-sponsored health insurance plans to cover contraceptives without co-payments. Some employers, largely on religious grounds, do not want to cover contraceptives in any form. Finding a middle ground between the two position is no easy task. It has become a vexing one for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, fraught with political and legal landmines. Final regulations published Friday demonstrate just how complex the process will be to deliver contraceptive coverage to the employees of religious nonprofits that oppose such medications" Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

Dozens of Obamacare lawsuits are still pending. "The Supreme Court decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act is one-year-old today. It does not, however, get a cake. Federal laws do not get birthday parties after surviving a years-long lawsuit; they simply get a ton more lawsuits. Dozens of legal challenges are still pending that challenge various components of the Affordable Care Act. They are largely at the district court level, meaning it will be a while until we know whether they succeed." Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

A long-term doc fix? "Two House committees are claiming momentum for their effort to repeal and replace Medicare's flawed physician payment formula, the sustainable growth rate (SGR). The Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means Committees on Friday released a more detailed version of their long-term "doc fix" proposal and requested stakeholder feedback by July 9." Elise Viebeck in The Hill.

Are health insurance costs set for a jolt? "Healthy consumers could see insurance rates double or even triple when they look for individual coverage under the federal health law later this year, while the premiums paid by sicker people are set to become more affordable, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of coverage to be sold on the law's new exchanges. The exchanges, the centerpiece of President Barack Obama's health-care law, look likely to offer few if any of the cut-rate policies that healthy people can now buy, according to the Journal's analysis. At the same time, the top prices look to be within reach for many people who previously faced sky-high premiums because of chronic illnesses or who couldn't buy insurance at all." Louise Radnofsky in The Wall Street Journal.

This is hilarious interlude: Will Ferrell's face on Natalie Portman's body, and vice versa.

5) Does Snowden have more?

Snowden has more. Or so we're told. "Julian Assange, the founder of the antisecrecy organization WikiLeaks, said on Sunday that even as Edward J. Snowden remained in diplomatic limbo at a Moscow airport, the disclosures from the classified documents he took as a National Security Agency contractor would continue." Eric Schmitt in The New York Times.

Misinformation on classified NSA programs includes statements by senior U.S. officials. "[D]etails that have emerged from the exposure of hundreds of pages of previously classified NSA documents indicate that public assertions about these programs by senior U.S. officials have also often been misleading, erroneous or simply false. The same day Litt spoke, the NSA quietly removed from its Web site a fact sheet about its collection activities because it contained inaccuracies discovered by lawmakers." Greg Miller in The Washington Post.

Europe is furious at those spying Americans. "European officials reacted angrily on Sunday to a report that the United States had been spying on its European Union allies, saying the claims could threaten talks with Washington on an important trade agreement. The latest allegations surfaced in the online edition of the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, which reported that American agencies had monitored the offices of the European Union in New York and Washington. Der Spiegel said information about the spying appeared in documents obtained by Edward J, Snowden, the former American intelligence contractor, and seen in part by the magazine." Stephen Castle in The New York Times.

...Obama is leading the damage control effort on spying. "Wherever he goes, whatever else is on his agenda, Mr. Obama in recent weeks has made a point of reassuring Americans that he is not spying on them. His statements are part of a carefully orchestrated White House damage-control effort in response to revelations about surveillance programs that have unnerved many Americans and exposed him to criticism from the political left and right." Peter Baker in The New York Times.

Snowden is running out of options. "As Edward Snowden entered his second week of limbo in Moscow's airport on Sunday, his decision to go to Russia is looking riskier than it first appeared, and may have left him in a worse situation than if he had stayed in Hong Kong...Mr. Snowden had hoped for asylum in Ecuador, but that seems less likely now. President Rafael Correa on Sunday retreated further from his country's early support of Mr. Snowden, telling the Associated Press it was up to Russian authorities to decide whether Mr. Snowden could travel to the Ecuadorean embassy in Moscow to seek asylum." Te-Ping Chen and Ken Brown in The Wall Street Journal.

Reading material interlude: The best sentences Wonkblog read today.

Wonkblog Roundup

Five facts about professional artists in the United StatesKatherine Boyle.

In restaurants and television, it’s bundles all the way down. Ezra Klein.

The rumors of Silicon Valley’s demise have been greatly exaggeratedLydia DePillis.

Race and voting after the Voting Rights Act: What you need to knowJohn Sides.

Here’s what one year of Obamacare looks likeSarah Kliff.

How DOMA’s departure could cost gay couples moneyDylan Matthews.

Legalizing marijuana is hard. Regulating a pot industry is even harderMike Konczal.

Et Cetera

How the next debt-ceiling fight could pay outDamian Paletta in The Wall Street Journal.

The end of the car cultureElisabeth Rosenthal in The New York Times.

House Republicans propose plan for concealed weapons in school zonesPete Kasperowicz in The Hill.

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

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.

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