Speaker John Boehner talks a good game about pushing immigration reform. He told a recent fundraiser in Las Vegas that he was “hell-bent on getting this done this year,” reports the Wall Street Journal. And back home in Cincinnati, he even mocked his fellow House Republicans for failing to confront the issue.
“Here’s the attitude,” the speaker told a Rotary Club meeting, screwing up his face in a look of distaste. ” ‘Ohhh, don’t make me do this. Ohhh, this is too hard.’ “
“We get elected to make choices,” Boehner added. “We get elected to solve problems, and it’s remarkable to me how many of my colleagues just don’t want to. … They’ll take the path of least resistance.”
It’s time for Boehner to follow his own advice. Yes, passing an immigration overhaul will be difficult. Yes, several dozen members of his own caucus adamantly oppose the whole idea and even threaten to depose the Speaker if he forces them to vote.
But Boehner said it best: Governing is about making choices, about solving problems. And a badly broken system — 11 million immigrants living here without papers, while industries from agriculture to high-tech plead for more workers — is a problem that demands a solution. And soon.
It’s been almost a year since the Senate passed a comprehensive reform package with bipartisan support, and as President Obama recently noted, only a “very narrow window” is left this year for legislative action. “The closer we get to the midterm elections, the harder it is to get things done around here.”
Actually, the president was understating the urgency. If this Congress fails to act, the next one would have to start all over in January. And since conservative Republicans will probably have more power after the elections, Sen. Charles Schumer of New York is right in saying that if immigration fails this summer, “it will not pass until 2017 at the earliest.”
That would be a crime — a far more serious crime than the one committed by immigrants who crossed the border illegally in search of a better life for their families.
There are at least three reasons why Boehner should make the right choice by allowing the House to vote on a reform package. The first is morality.
Boehner is a serious Catholic, and his church’s teaching is very clear on the matter. As the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has officially stated, “Immigration policy that allows people to live here and contribute to society for years but refuses to offer them the opportunity to achieve legal status does not serve the common good. The presence of millions of people living without easy access to basic human rights and necessities is a great injustice.”
Then there’s economics. The myth perpetrated by opponents of immigration — that newcomers take jobs from Americans — is totally wrong. Immigrants create jobs, pay taxes and contribute enormously to the entrepreneurial spirit that conservatives profess to value so highly.
A leading Republican economist, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, estimates that an immigration reform bill would boost the national growth rate by close to a full percentage point per year over 10 years and reduce the deficit by nearly $3 trillion.
That’s why Jay Timmons, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, says that supporting reform “is a unified position of the business community.” That’s why Larry Kudlow, an economic adviser to President Reagan, writes that “Pro-growth immigration reform will strengthen the shaky economy.”
If morality and economics are not enough, there’s always political self-interest. When Reagan was elected in 1980, the voting population was 88 percent white; by 2016, that rate will drop below 70 percent. Obama won more than seven out of 10 Hispanic and Asian votes in 2012, and smart Republicans know that their party’s future depends on reversing that trend.
That’s why Tom Donohue, the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, cracked recently that if the GOP does not back immigration reform this year, “they shouldn’t bother to run a candidate in 2016.”
It would be one thing if the speaker had to buck a unified party completely opposed to reform. But he doesn’t. In a new Politico poll, 71 percent of all voters, including 64 percent of Republicans, backed “sweeping change to immigration laws.”
That means Boehner is allowing a small minority to block a measure that would promote moral virtue, generate economic growth and improve the political health of his own party.
As the Speaker put it, lawmakers “get elected to make choices.” His choice should be clear.
Steve and Cokie Roberts can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.