Tag: immigration reform

A Post-Health Care Realignment?

From Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal to Joe Biden’s Big F-ing Deal, progressives have led a consistent and largely successful campaign to expand the size and scope of the federal government. Now, Matt Yglesias suggests, it’s time to take a victory lap and call it a day:

For the past 65-70 years—and especially for the past 30 years since the end of the civil rights argument—American politics has been dominated by controversy over the size and scope of the welfare state. Today, that argument is largely over with liberals having largely won. […] The crux of the matter is that progressive efforts to expand the size of the welfare state are basically done. There are big items still on the progressive agenda. But they don’t really involve substantial new expenditures. Instead, you’re looking at carbon pricing, financial regulatory reform, and immigration reform as the medium-term agenda. Most broadly, questions about how to boost growth, how to deliver public services effectively, and about the appropriate balance of social investment between children and the elderly will take center stage. This will probably lead to some realigning of political coalitions. Liberal proponents of reduced trade barriers and increased immigration flows will likely feel emboldened about pushing that agenda, since the policy environment is getting substantially more redistributive and does much more to mitigate risk. Advocates of things like more and better preschooling are going to find themselves competing for funds primarily with the claims made by seniors.

I’d like to believe this is true, though I can’t say I’m persuaded. It seems at least as likely that, consistent with the historical pattern, the new status quo will simply be redefined as the “center,” and proposals to further augment the welfare state will move from the fringe to the mainstream of opinion on the left.

That said, it’s hardly unheard of for a political victory to yield the kind of medium-term realignment Yglesias is talking about. The end of the Cold War destabilized the Reagan-era conservative coalition by essentially taking off the table a central—and in some cases the only—point of agreement among diverse interest groups. Less dramatically, the passage of welfare reform in the 90s substantially reduced the political salience of welfare policy. The experience of countries like Canada and the United Kingdom, moreover, suggests that if Obamacare isn’t substantially rolled back fairly soon, it’s likely to become a political “given” that both parties take for granted. Libertarians, of course, have long lamented this political dynamic: Government programs create constituencies, and become extraordinarily difficult to cut or eliminate, even if they were highly controversial at their inceptions.

We don’t have to be happy about this pattern, but it is worth thinking about how it might alter the political landscape a few years down the line.  One possibility, as I suggest above, is that it will just shift the mainstream of political discourse to the left. But as libertarians have also long been at pains to point out, the left-right model of politics, with its roots in the seating protocols of the 18th century French assembly, conceals the multidimensional complexity of politics. There’s no intrinsic commonality between, say, “left” positions on taxation, foreign policy, and reproductive rights—the label here doesn’t reflect an underlying ideological coherence so much as the contingent requirements of assembling a viable political coalition at a particular time and place.  If an issue that many members of one coalition considered especially morally urgent is, practically speaking, taken off the table, the shape of the coalitions going forward depends largely on the issues that rise to salience. Libertarians are perhaps especially conscious of this precisely because we tend to take turns being more disgusted with one or another party—usually whichever holds power at a given moment.

The $64,000 question, of course, is what comes next. As 9/11 and the War on Terror reminded us, the central political issues of an era are often dictated by fundamentally unpredictable events. But some of the obvious current candidates are notable for the way they cut across the current partisan divide. In my own wheelhouse—privacy and surveillance issues—Republicans have lately been univocal in their support of expanded powers for the intelligence community, with plenty of help from hawkish Democrats. Given their fondness for invoking the specter of soviet totalitarian states, I’ve hoped that the folks mobilizing under the banner of the Tea Party might begin pushing back on the burgeoning surveillance state. Thus far I’ve hoped in vain, but if that coalition outlasts our current disputes, one can imagine it becoming an issue for them in 2011 as parts of the Patriot Act once again come up for reauthorization, or in 2012 when the FISA Amendments Act is due to sunset. In the past, the same issues have made strange bedfellows of the ACLU and the ACU, of Ron Paul Republicans and FireDogLake Democrats.  Obama has pledged to take up comprehensive immigration reform during his term, and there too significant constituencies within each party fall on opposite sides of the issue.

Further out than that it’s hard to predict. But more generally, the possibility that I find interesting is that—against a background of technologies that have radically reduced the barriers to rapid, fluid, and distributed group formation and mobilization—the protracted health care fight, the economic crisis, and the explosion of federal spending have created an array of potent political communities outside the party-centered coalitions. They’ve already shown they’re capable of surprising alliances—think Jane Hamsher and Grover Norquist.  Suppose Yglesias is at least this far correct: The next set of political battles are likely to be fought along a different value dimension than was health care reform. Precisely because these groups formed outside the party-centered coalitions, and assuming they outlast the controversies that catalyzed their creation, it’s hard to predict which way they’ll move on tomorrow’s controversies. It’s entirely possible that there are latent and dispersed constituencies for policy change outside the bipartisan mainstream who have now, crucially, been connected: Any overlap on orthogonal value dimensions within or between the new groups won’t necessarily be evident until the relevant values are triggered by a high-visibility policy debate.  Still, it’s reason to expect that the next decade of American politics may be even more turbulent and surprising than the last one.

Senator Graham’s Inexplicable National ID Support

Compromise is catnip in Washington, D.C. That’s my best guess at why Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) would endorse New York Senator Chuck Schumer’s (D) widely reviled plan to create a mandatory biometric national ID system.

Schumer’s national ID plans have no more definition today than when he wrote about them in his 2007 campaign manifesto Postitively American. Among the thin gruel of that book is a two-page lump displaying more ignorance than understanding of how identity systems work and fail. Schumer doesn’t know the difference between an identifier—a characteristic used to distinguish or group people—and an identification card or system, which does the entire task of proving a person’s previously fixed identity. (My thin gruel on the topic is the book Identity Crisis: How Identification is Overused and Misunderstood.)

“All the national employment ID card will do is make forgery harder,” says Schumer.

No, that’s not all it would do: It would also subject every employment decision to the federal government’s approval. It would make surveillance of law-abiding citizens easier. It would allow the government to control access to health care. It would facilitate gun control. It would cost $100 billion dollars or more. It would draw bribery and corruption into the Social Security Administration. It would promote the development of sophisticated biometric identity fraud. How long should I go on?

Senator Graham’s take is equally simple: “We’ve all got Social Security cards,” he said to the Wall Street Journal. “They’re just easily tampered with. Make them tamper-proof. That’s all I’m saying.”

No, Senator, that’s not all you’re saying. You’re saying that native-born American citizens should be herded into Social Security Administration offices by the millions so they can have their biometrics collected in federal government databases. You’re saying that you’d like a system where working, traveling, going to the doctor, and using a credit card all depend on whether you can show your national ID. You’re saying that bigger government is the solution, not smaller government.

The point for these senators, of course, is not the substance. It’s the thrill they experience as nominal ideological opponents finding that they can agree on something, securing a potential breakthrough on the difficult immigration issue.

They’re only ”nominal” ideological opponents, though. Chuck Schumer has always been a big government guy—and long a supporter of having a national ID, despite the lessons of history. Lindsey Graham is not really his ideological opponent. Typical of politicians with years in Washington D.C., Graham is steadily migrating toward the big-government ideology that unites federal politicians and bureaucrats against the people.

Sen. Schumer’s Immigration Reform Is a National ID

So reports the Wall Street Journal:

Lawmakers working to craft a new comprehensive immigration bill have settled on a way to prevent employers from hiring illegal immigrants: a national biometric identification card all American workers would eventually be required to obtain.

It’s the natural evolution of the policy called “internal enforcement” of immigration law, as I wrote in my paper, “Franz Kafka’s Solution to Illegal Immigration.”

Once in place, watch for this national ID to regulate access to financial services, housing, medical care and prescriptions—and, of course, serve as an internal passport.

New Study Seconds Cato Finding: Immigration Reform Good for Economy

The Center for American Progress and the Immigration Policy Center released a new study this morning that finds comprehensive immigration reform would boost the U.S. economy by $189 billion a year by 2019. The bottom-line results of the study are remarkably similar to those of a Cato study released last August.

Titled “Raising the Floor for American Workers: the Economic Benefits of Comprehensive Immigration Reform,” the CAP study was authored by Dr. Raul Hinojosa-Ojeda of the University of California, Los Angeles.

It finds that legalizing low-skilled immigration would boost U.S. gross domestic product by 0.84 percent by raising the productivity of immigrant workers and expanding activity throughout the economy.

Using a different general-equilibrium model of the U.S. economy, the earlier Cato study (“Restriction or Legalization? Measuring the Economic Benefits of Immigration Reform,” by Peter Dixon and Maureen Rimmer) found that a robust temporary worker program would boost the incomes of U.S. households by $180 billion a year by 2019.

Both studies also concluded that tighter restrictions and reduced low-skilled immigration would impose large costs on native-born Americans by shrinking the overall economy and lowering worker productivity.

I’m partial to the Cato study. Its methodology is more comprehensive and more fully explained, but it is worth noting that very different think tanks employing two different models have come to the same result: Legalization of immigration will expand the U.S. economy and incomes, while an “enforcement only” policy of further restrictions will only depress economic activity.

If Congress and President Obama want to create better jobs and stimulate the economy, comprehensive immigration reform should be high on the agenda.

Disappointing Start for Immigration Reform

The good news is that a bill has been introduced in the House this week under the broad heading of immigration reform. Even during a recession, Congress should be working to change our immigration system to reflect the longer-term needs of our economy for foreign-born workers.

The bad news is that the actual bill put in the hopper by Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-IL, on Tuesday would do nothing to solve the related problems of illegal immigration and the long-term needs of our economy.

As I argued in a recent blog post and a Washington Times op-ed, immigration reform must include expanded opportunities for legal immigration in the future through a temporary worker visa.

Any so-called reform that is missing this third leg will be doomed to fail. We will simply be repeating the mistakes of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, which granted amnesty to 2.7 million illegal workers and ramped up enforcement, but made no provision for future workers. Rep. Jeff Flake, R-AZ, agrees.

Tuesday Links

  • In the past eight months, the unemployment rate has jumped from 7.2 percent to 10.2 percent. Here’s why.
  • Three trillion reasons to hope the Senate is not as fiscally reckless as their counterparts in the House on health care reform.
  • Obama a federalist? Not quite: “Not yet a year into his administration, Obama’s record on 10th Amendment issues is already clear: He’ll let the states have their way when their policies please blue team sensibilities and he’ll call in the feds when they don’t.” More here.
  • It’s time to get immigration reform right: “Republican leaders need to liberate themselves from the Lou Dobbs minority within their own ranks that will oppose any legalization. Democratic leaders need to face down their labor-union constituency that opposes any workable temporary-visa program. Working together, President Obama and a bipartisan majority in Congress can seize the current opportunity to reform the immigration system and finally fix the problem of illegal immigration.”
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The Missing Leg of Immigration Reform

In a speech this morning in Washington, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the Obama administration remains committed to enacting real immigration reform. In a key passage in her remarks, she said reform must contain three essential components:

Let me be clear: when I talk about “immigration reform,” I’m referring to what I call the “three-legged stool” that includes a commitment to serious and effective enforcement, improved legal flows for families and workers, and a firm but fair way to deal with those who are already here. That’s the way that this problem has to be solved, because we need all three aspects to build a successful system.

The phrase “improved legal flows” is rather vague, but it points toward some kind of expanded visa program to allow future workers to enter the country legally. Our current immigration system offers no legal channel for anywhere near a sufficient number of foreign-born workers to enter the country legally to fill the lower-skilled jobs our economy creates in times of normal growth.

I’ve made the argument for expanded legal immigration in a recent op-ed, and in a Free Trade Bulletin when the Senate last debated reform in 2007.

After a promising start, Secretary Napolitano spent most of the rest of her speech touting how much has been done on the enforcement side, and almost nothing about how we can expand opportunities in the future for legal immigration as an alternative to illegal immigration.

Without that crucial third leg, Congress will just be repeating the two-legged failure of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act.