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Bessent: Immigration reform hits a stumbling block in the House

The Capitol Dome silhouetted against the rising sun

The Capitol Dome silhouetted against the rising sun in Washington, DC. Photo Credit: Getty Images

The immigration bill moving through the Senate would reduce federal budget deficits and boost the nation’s economy if it becomes law. That’s what Washington's respected, nonpartisan bean-counters said in a report released Tuesday.

Despite that good news immigration reform is on the road to oblivion in the House.

The bill negotiated by the Senate’s bipartisan “gang of eight” would cut federal deficits by $175 billion from 2014 to 2023, and by another $700 billion over the following decade, according to the anxiously awaited analysis from the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation. And it would increase the nation’s economic output in 2023, 3.3 percent beyond the projection under current law.

The reforms the Senate is debating would tighten border security and workplace enforcement, increase the number of people who could lawfully enter the country and offer people here illegally a path to citizenship. If implemented the result would be a net increase of 10.4 million legal residents. And the $197 billion in federal taxes those residents pay would outstrip the $22 billion the policy changes would cost in discretionary federal spending, the CBO said.

Of course it would be up to future Congresses to decide how much of that $175 billion in net revenue to actually apply to deficit reduction. But the bottom-line, according to the number crunchers, is that immigration reform will pay for itself, and then some.

It would be good if that analysis improved the odds that the House of Representatives will pass workable immigration reform. But that isn’t likely. And two recent developments make it even less likely.

Rather than produce one bill encompassing all the important elements of reform, the House Judiciary Committee is taking a piece-by-piece, incremental approach. And the Speaker of the House, Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), said Tuesday that he won’t bring any immigration bill to the floor for a vote unless it has the support of a majority of House Republicans.

That adherence to the “Hastert rule” — a principle named for former Republican Speaker Dennis Hastert who made it his modus operandi — may enable Boehner to hang onto his leadership post. But it will doom immigration reform.

At best piecemeal legislation supported by a majority of House Republicans will address only bits and pieces of the immigration problem. At worst it will make it impossible to reconcile any bills that eventually emerge from the House and Senate.

For instance, House Republicans voted overwhelmingly earlier this month to kill a policy initiated by executive order that stopped the deportation of immigrants, known as “dreamers,” who were brought into the country illegally as children. The Senate bill would allow dreamers to become citizens.

Some House Republicans are also pushing for unrealistic border security goals to be met before anyone in the country illegally could embark on a long road to citizenship. That too would eviscerate a key provision of the Senate bill.

Pragmatic immigration reform will secure the borders, give millions of people here without documentation a chance at a better life, slash federal budget deficits and make the nation more competitive in the global economy. Congress needs to get it done.


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