Monday, May 6, 2013

Will Republican Civil War Harm Immigration Reform?

It was likely bound to happen. Last week, we saw a slew of excuses as the "tea party" revved up its campaign to kill comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) this Congress. Various Republican Congresscritters have mentioned everything from "TER'RIS!!!" to "TEH GAYZZZ!!!" to "BROWN PPLZ R STEEL'IN OUR JOBZ!!!" as excuses to weasel out of whatever commitment they made earlier to at least consider CIR.

And now, we have a new excuse in the making. The (Whose?) Heritage Foundation has released a new set of excuses for the G-O-TEA to oppose any & all CIR. Oh, yes. That's right. They're fucking up fudging the numbers in order to decry the Gang of 8 CIR bill as "TAX-N-SPND LIB'RULZZZ!!!" (Wonkblog debunked the number soup of Heritage's report earlier today.)

Yet in doing this, Heritage (of the "Tea Party") is making some surprising new enemies.

Within hours of Monday’s press conference, the Bipartisan Policy Center’s immigration group, which includes former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour (R) and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, condemned Heritage’s report as “fundamentally flawed.”

“Newly legalized immigrants would further expand the economy and our tax base, particularly after earning full access to the institutions that helped make America the world’s greatest mobilizer of human potential,” the group’s members, who have yet to release their own immigration proposal, said in a statement.

The conservative American Action Forum last month released a report by former CBO director Douglas Holtz-Eakin claiming that a comprehensive immigration overhaul would reduce the deficit by $2.5 trillion thanks to increased economic growth. The libertarian CATO Institute also published a lengthy critique of Rector’s 2007 methodology, claiming it “produced a grossly exaggerated cost to federal taxpayers of legalizing unauthorized immigrants while undercounting or discounting their positive tax and economic contributions.”

Critics also noted that Heritage released a background report in 2006 by Tim Kane and Kirk A. Johnson that asserted “[t]he argument that immigrants harm the American economy should be dismissed out of hand,” including low-skilled migrant workers identified as a massive drain by [Robert] Rector. Derrick Morgan, Heritage’s vice president for domestic and economic policy, told reporters Monday that its findings came “during a time of boom” and should be reconsidered in light of the 2008 financial collapse.

The gaping chasm between Heritage’s findings and those of other right-leaning experts reflects how much immigration has divided conservatives who are typically on the same side of fiscal issues. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), for example, has a long relationship with DeMint and recorded a video introduction to Heritage’s Spanish-language site just last year. But these days he’s posting debunkers of their findings on his website and criticizing their methodology in TV interviews.

Steve Benen so far has characterized this as "Heritage versus the GOP". While I typically agree with Benen on these kinds of matters, we must part ways on this. Sure, some Republican leaders are eager to get CIR done in hopes of fixing their party's "Hispanic Problem". However, I suspect TPM's Benjy Sarlin was more accurate in describing this as "sparking a conservative civil war".

Why? I can't help but think of last Wednesday's May Day rally in Downtown Las Vegas. While a small handful of Republican operatives joined with the crowd and proudly displayed their Brian Sandoval (R-Flip-flop) stickers, the base of their own party could occasionally be heard as they were trying to heckle Senator Harry Reid (D-Searchlight Strong) as he was making the case for reform. Last Wednesday, we could clearly see a house divided against itself in the Nevada GOP.

And it's not just here. Even Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Kill Medicare) has been falling out of favor with the very "tea party" that propelled him to national political stardom because he's willing to consider CIR! And the local DC gossip rag even mentioned various "tea party" darlings as possibilities for killing reform this year.

And that leads us to what Greg Sargent said earlier today. Long story short: Republicans are at a crossroads.

Ultimately, the prospects for immigration reform have always turned on whether enough Republicans are willing to swallow hard, cross the citizenship Rubicon, and accept the consequences for the right. This [Heritage] report doesn’t change that basic dynamic. It will give an army of talk show hosts and bloggers opposed to reform plenty of ammunition to kick up a whole lot of noise against the proposal, to be sure.

But it’s just as true today as it was last week that reform is only going to happen if enough Republicans ignore all that ["tea party"] noise and decide that short term pain from the base is well worth dealing with in order to give the party a chance to at least begin repairing relations with Latinos, at a time when demographic realities are looking extremely daunting over the long term. And make no mistake — it’s only the far right who opposes a path to citizenship; polls show solid majorities overall, and even substantial numbers of Republicans.

If far right Republicans in the House kill reform, that would be the worst possible political outcome for the GOP. The noise from the far right may have just gotten a bit louder, but the consequences for Republicans of allowing the noise to kill reform haven’t changed at all.

And if far right Senate Republicans kill immigration reform there like they did with gun safety reform, then their party will really have hell to pay going forward. But then again, we're talking about the general electorate. Right now, many House and Senate Republicans are most worried about a "tea party" primary challenge. And that's why CIR is facing a new round of trouble on Capitol Hill.

The local DC gossip rag also posted today the Gang of 8's plan to secure a supermajority of Senators for their CIR bill. And guess who's on top of their target list? Yep, Senator Dean Heller (R-46%) is there. So now, it's just a matter of whether he sides with good policy and long-term smart politics... Or if he continues running scared of Sharron Angle.

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