In contrast to the GOP modus operandi of the past few years, Senate and House Republicans are putting out meaningful policy alternatives. Along with that, they are learning, is the necessity of defending those proposals against internal and external critics.

U.S.Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) speaks about his deficit-reduction plan during a media availability in the Capitol in Washington July 18, 2011. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (UNITED STATES - Tags: BUSINESS POLITICS HEADSHOT) Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

The Obamacare alternative put forward by Republican senators Tom Coburn (Okla.), Orrin Hatch (Utah) and Richard Burr (N.C.) has garnered praise from conservative policy wonks. Today, its supporters counterpunched against critics on two important issues. First, Doug Holtz-Eakin of the American Action Network sent out a study finding the GOP alternative to Obamacare “cuts costs, covers more people and increases choices” just as the president challenged them to do in the State of the Union address:

  • Cuts Costs:  The Patient CARE Act, compared to current law, will save almost $1.5 trillion over 10 years.
  • Lowers Premiums:  The Patient CARE Act will reduce premiums across the board for Americans compared to current law, with the individual insurance market seeing the biggest reductions of up to 11 percent for single policies.
  • Expands Coverage:  The Patient CARE Act would cover almost the same amount of Americans as Obamacare.
  • Improves Medical Care Productivity:  The Patient CARE Act will increase medical productivity by 2 to 3 percent compared to ObamaCare. In other words, it will reduce overall costs, while improving quality.
  • Reduces the National Debt:  The Patient CARE Act will reduce the national debt by decreasing federal spending by almost $1.5 trillion.

Meanwhile, James Capretta took apart the specious claim that the GOP plan raises taxes. In fact, “The truth is that the Burr-Coburn-Hatch plan would provide substantial net tax relief to the American people. All of Obamacare’s tax hikes would be repealed, and only a fraction of the work force would be affected by the upper limit on the tax preference for employer-paid premiums. When this plan is scored, it would not be surprising to see that it provides hundreds of billions of dollars in net tax relief over the coming decade.”

The lesson here is that once you come up with alternative policies you have to be prepared to defend them.

Likewise on immigration, the usual suspects in nasty personal and political terms are outraged at the prospect of a House immigration bill championed by conservative favorite Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) that would legalize those already here, secure the border, increase high-end visas and, as border metrics are met, offer legalization. Outrageous! Tear the party apart! In reality the anti-immigrant crowd is in the minority and hasn’t made its case on policy grounds.

Today, the Cato Institute finally responded to Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) who is opposed to increasing legal or illegal immigration and has taken to citing bogus studies on Hispanics (including the discredited Heritage study asserting that they are less intelligent than non-Hispanics). The pro-immigration reform Cato did not pull any punches. A sample:

Claim: New immigrant workers are mostly lesser-skilled and will compete in every sector, industry, and occupation in the U.S. economy.

Fact:  Few immigrants compete with U.S.-born workers. To compete, immigrant workers need to have similar characteristics to U.S.-born workers. But as the anti-immigration talking points admit, immigrants are more likely to be lesser-skilled than Americans. Immigrants with lesser-skills do not compete against Americans with higher skills. For instance, an immigrant worker in a meat-packing plant does not compete with an American accountant anymore than Senator Sessions does.

Immigrants are much more likely to be lower skilled and higher skilled than Americans so there isn’t much competition. Because immigrants and the U.S.-born mostly have different skills, they are more likely to be complementary – meaning that they work with Americans rather than compete against Americans.

It takes years for many immigrants to learn English to the point where they could potentially compete with English speaking U.S.-born workers. As a result, the labor market splits in two: One where English is spoken and the second where other languages are spoken. Jobs where English is required are higher paid professions while jobs that don’t require English language skills are typically lower paid. A restaurant offers a perfect example. Low-skilled immigrant workers are primarily the dishwashers, busboys, and cooks – jobs that don’t require much English language ability and are lower paid. The low-skilled Americans who used to do those jobs instead specialized in restaurant jobs that require English. Lower-skilled Americans became the waiters, hosts, and managers – all jobs that require English and are higher paying. Lower-skilled immigrants helps push up those lower-skilled Americans through the economic process described above, also known as complementary task specialization.

Immigrants are not just workers though, they are also consumers and entrepreneurs. Hispanic and Asian Americans, the two most recent ethnic and racial immigrant groups, spend about $2 trillion dollars a year. That spending, made possible by immigrant work and entrepreneurship, creates job opportunities for Americans elsewhere in the economy. Immigrants are also about twice as likely as their U.S.-born counterparts to start a business – a remarkable achievement in a country as entrepreneurial as the United States.

Even Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) seemed to stand up for the Ryan-like approach in a Fox News interview. (“I continue to think the answer lies in the fact that Congress needs to act. Congress does need to reform our immigration code.  Our immigration code is stuck in the 1950s, and it can’t quite get out. But we have got to do is do it in a methodical step by step process, and it’s got to include and begin with improvements to our border security and a modernization of our visa programs.”)

Again, if Republicans want to put out alternatives on immigration, health care and more, they have to be prepared to fight on the merits for their views. If today is any indication, pro-reform Republicans look ready to do that.