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Due to a mild back injury, I'm home officing today, and so I had an opportunity to participate in a conference call with Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA) on a range of topics, including immigration, earmark reform (porkbusting), Iran, Iraq, energy independence, and more. What follows below are the rough notes on the call, which I found fascinating and enlightening. Pay special attention to what Rep. Kingston has to say about enthusiasm for earmark reform; apparently some politicians pay lip service rather than push for real reform. (What a shock!) Also, the Congressman makes a very important point about applying earmark reform to all committees within the House and not just Appropriations.
Here are my notes. The first few paragraphs cover Kingston's opening statement, and the rest come from the questions asked of the gaggle:
Represents five military installations, ~25,000 in Iraq.
Making economic and military progress – have 241,000 soldiers trained, no critical point defined. President Bush insists that final call remains with commanders in Iraq. Iraqi Army soldiers unrealistic about advancement, require multiple cycles of training. Congress will want a definition of the number of trained soldiers for a threshold. It will be a political issue in the fall. Stalemate in Iraq politics will disillusion public and Congress.
Iran – concerned about Venezuela’s diplomatic engagement with Teheran. No support for military solutions in Congress just yet. They will remain open to military solutions only to support diplomatic efforts (talk tough). Chavez has spent $2B on diplomatic initiatives, more than what US spends on drug interdiction in SA. Oil money keeps him afloat, which is why energy independence is so important.
Wish to reduce oil imports by 2.5M bbls by 2025. Move to ethanol, biomass, and other fuels. White House supports HR 4409, but no big push from Bush on it. Brazil – 40% of cars run on ethanol, US only 3%, even though Brazil buys American cars.
Immigration – House has made great strides compared to the senate. Caught 115,000 illegals last year but the BP can only do catch-and-release. Won’t handcuff illegals due to diplomatic considerations. Fence blocks American users of the Rio Grande, so some sort of accommodation will have to be worked out. House will push a guest-worker program rather than an amnesty-type road to citizenship plan as in the senate. Business needs guest workers, America needs security.
Economy is excellent, but we need to extend the tax cuts.
My question: how do we make sure a guest-worker program doesn't create a French situation of a large immigrant population that won't assimilate and has no process to do so? Immigration reform needs to pursue the House model. System that gives 3 mos to register their workers, can re-admit under the guest worker program. Everyone would get on track; employers with non-compliance would be subject to large fines. Have a dual-track program for the possibility of citizenship, but those would have to go home and re-enter.
How do we make sure they go home first? Need a worker-ID system. Would have to enter this program in order to work.
Protests – they serve to bring out the hardliners, not the moderates. Constituents wonder how people breaking the law by being here can march to demand more rights and privileges.
Birthright citizenship – only 36 nations still have it, and the House wants to look at amending the Constitution to correct that.
On reform: Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. The fence will not solve everything. A reform which takes care of half the program still improves the situation.
Earmarks: What needs to happen in order to advance reform? Not as much real support outside of the chatter in DC. There probably isn’t a consensus in the House or Senate to reform earmarks. Appropriations isn’t the only place where earmarks occur (ie Transportation). The leadership position is to get some reform on earmarks, at least in the House. Why not Ways and Means for reform as well?
Republican revolution: are the ideals of the ’94 revolution gone with Tom DeLay? Kingston: “a lot of ember there”. Boehner was one of the originals. Tax simplification probably can’t be done this year, but other goals still remain. The line-item veto, deficit reduction, and earmark reform are doable. When was the last time a political party stood up for Social Security reform.
E-mail regarding budgeting for emergencies – Kingston supports it “in principle”, but the money always goes elsewhere once collected. Getting leery of emergency funding; war is a great example of this – why is still considered “emergency funding”?
Deterrent value of the Minutemen – will Congress get more supportive of this program? Need more of their stories told in order to gain appreciation.
Do we really need to import workers? Don’t we really import families? How many workers do we need, and why are we importing the families? Need to have it strictly contractual to maintain control over a guest-worker program. 24% of agricultural workers are illegals (check tape for other industries). The migrants are willing to work longer and harder, business owners say. Businesses cannot compete without low-wage unskilled workers.
But why import the families? Registration system will eliminate some of that. Rest will be taken care of when we eliminate birthright citizenship.
I'll list other posts as they come up -- if other participants can e-mail me their links, I'll add them in here. Rep. Kingston has it on his blog here.
Tim Chapman from Town Hall
Mary Katherine Ham from Hugh Hewitt
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