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June 2, 2006
Bush Wants Immediate Action On Immigration

... but probably won't get it, for a couple of reasons. The New York Times reports that some Congressional Republicans want to wait until after the election to reconcile the House and Senate versions of immigration reform, and the Washington Times predicts that a turf war over revenue will delay conference committee action. Meanwhile, Bush changes rhetorical tactics somewhat in a concession to hard-liners:

Beginning a public relations offensive intended to prod divided Congressional Republicans into overhauling the nation's immigration laws, President Bush rebuked conservative opponents of his plan on Thursday and warned that there is "no excuse" for delay.

With Congress set to return to Washington on Monday after a one-week recess, some Republicans have suggested they may fare better at the polls in November if the House and Senate wait until after Election Day to reconcile their vastly different immigration bills.

But Mr. Bush made clear in a speech at the United States Chamber of Commerce that he did not want Congress to wait. Next week, the president will take his case for what he calls "comprehensive immigration reform" on the road, with appearances in New Mexico and Nebraska.

Bush may get surprised by two inconvenient truths during his road trip. First, his speeches on immigration reform may not sell as well as he might imagine in New Mexico and especially in Nebraska. The latter state just rejected a popular politician, legendary Huskers coach Tom Osborne, for supporting Bush's immigration package during his primary run for governor. And while New Mexico has a high percentage of Hispanic citizens, they tend to view illegal immigration somewhat less hospitably than Bush.

The second inconvenient truth is that Bush isn't running for re-election again, ever. However, the Republicans in Congress and a third of them in the Senate do have to face voters this fall, and so far Matthew Dowd hasn't given them much confidence in their chances if they create an amnesty-lite program in conference. They have heard a crescendo of angry voices demanding that the federal government start enforcing the law rather than create complicated and costly schemes to avoid doing so.

Bush offered an olive branch in his remarks towards this end, but it wound up sounding out of place:

President Bush told the nation's most prominent business group yesterday that "unscrupulous" employers have contributed to the illegal immigration crisis in the United States by knowingly hiring undocumented workers, and called for steep new penalties on those exploiting the shadow economy. ...

"Businesses that knowingly employ illegal workers undermine this law and undermine the spirit of America," the president said during a speech against a backdrop of U.S. flags, images of the Statue of Liberty and the slogan "Comprehensive Immigration Reform." "And we're not going to tolerate it in this country." Although most businesses abide by the law, he said, "there are some unscrupulous folks who want to take advantage of low-cost labor."

Bush is undoubtedly correct on this point; conservatives have demanded that businesses be held accountable for their hiring practices, arguing that once the jobs dry up, the illegals will return home. However, coming from the man who has long extolled the work ethic of the illegals and their willingness to do the jobs Americans won't do, this argument makes little sense. If Bush is correct and the illegals fill a critical need that Americans won't perform for ourselves, and if that's as beneficial as Bush claims, then how exactly are the businesses "unscrupulous"?

The lack of scruples comes from employers exploiting illegal immigrants to keep wages low and to avoid transition to higher-tech solutions. Bush tacitly admits this in his statement, which would be news only because he has so far steadfastly avoided that obvious conclusion throughout this debate. Pressure in labor markets force businesses to either offer more compensation or to invest in technological solutions that reduces the need for the labor. The free flow of immigrants and the lack of government enforcement allow these businesses to avoid either kind of investment. The scruples shortage exists in both the businesses that exploit cheap labor and the government that allows it.

Bush may have to put up with some delay anyway, as the version that passed the Senate has Constitutional issues of an unusual type:

A key feature of the Senate bill is that it would make illegals pay back taxes before applying for citizenship, a requirement that supporters say will raise billions of dollars in the next decade.

There's just one problem: The U.S. Constitution specifically prohibits revenue-raising legislation from originating in the Senate. ...

Republicans -- including the bill's supporters -- say this will kill the bill, and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist says he's offered a simple solution. He wants to attach the immigration bill to a tax bill that has already passed the House. It would then proceed as planned to a "conference committee," where negotiators from the House and Senate hammer out differences between the two chambers' immigration bills.

While this kind of hiccup would normally get ignored in conference, House Republicans looking for a fight might well jump on this technicality to scupper the bill altogether. Frist's solution might avoid that, but so far Harry Reid refuses to agree to it, saying that the Republicans should deal with it in conference instead. Some Republicans likely will deal with it, in unpleasant and final terms, and maybe Reid wanted that all along. If that happens, he and the Democrats can claim with some justification that the GOP killed immigration reform.

Bush may want immediate action on CIRA, but the more coverage this gets, the more likely we won't see any real action until the rump session after the election.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at June 2, 2006 5:47 AM

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