Jul. 10, 2013 11:48 PM
Written by James R. Carroll
WASHINGTON — Calling it “flawed” and “rushed,” House Republican leaders Wednesday snubbed sweeping immigration reform legislation, even as a new study showed that state and local tax revenues in Kentucky and Indiana would increase by nearly $56 million annually if reform passed.
“House committees will continue their work on a step-by-step, common-sense approach to fixing what has long been a broken system,” House GOP leaders, including Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a joint statement after a closed-door session with rank-and-file Republican lawmakers.
In a closed-door meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus on Wednesday, President Barack Obama said he and other members of his administration are going to press the economic arguments for reform with state and local officials, business leaders, law enforcement and religious organizations.
A study by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy offered Obama and other supporters of reform more ammunition: Overall, the 11.2 million undocumented immigrants who would obtain legal work status under a reform system would pay an additional $2 billion a year to states and localities. The nonpartisan institute is a Washington think tank.
In Kentucky, undocumented immigrants pay almost $59 million each year in state and local taxes, but that would go up an additional $23.2 million if those immigrants were given legal status, the report said.
In Indiana, almost $109 million in state and local taxes are paid by undocumented immigrants. Reform would add $32.8 million to annual revenues, the institute found.
Advocates for reform say those numbers are yet another argument for Congress to press ahead on immigration legislation this year.
“This study is further confirmation that reforming our immigration system to ensure every individual working and living here is paying taxes and contributing fully to society will benefit our economy and all American families – the same way immigrants have driven our economy for the past three centuries,” Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Louisville, said in a statement.
Meg Wiehe, state policy director for the institute, said the report underscores the fact that anyone who is in the United States for any length of time, whether legally or not, ends up paying taxes.
“We acknowledge that there are costs as well,” she said. “But we have found in the debate on reform there has been an over-focus on the costs and not enough on the benefits.”
But Derrick Morgan, vice president of domestic and economic policy at the Heritage Foundation, told U.S. News & World Report the institute’s report was misleading.
“We would generally agree that after amnesty, you would see state and local tax revenues go up, but this study doesn’t look at all into the spending side,” he said. Heritage is a conservative Washington think tank that opposes legalization of undocumented immigrants.
Danielle Smoot, spokeswoman for Rep. Hal Rogers, R-5th District, was similarly critical.
“The revenue report only provides part of the story and fails to account for the projected increased strain on state and local services as a result of giving a legal status to illegal immigrants,” Smoot said.
The institute study was released on the same day the White House issued a report trumpeting the economic advantages of overhauling the immigration system.
The White House reiterated recent findings by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that the Senate’s recently passed bill would shrink the federal deficit and generate an additional $450 billion in federal tax revenues over the next 10 years.
Reforming immigration laws also would create jobs, encourage innovation and increase worker productivity, the White House report said.
Yarmuth and a group of six other House Democrats and Republicans have written a comprehensive immigration reform bill that they plan to introduce soon.
The measure would provide a way for undocumented immigrants to obtain eventual citizenship and tighten border security, among many provisions. Yarmuth has said his bill is similar to the Senate bill passed last month on a bipartisan vote of 68-32. Yarmuth and his colleagues would be proposing a much broader bill than Boehner appears willing to consider.
House GOP leaders on Wednesday appeared unwilling to follow the Senate on anything that looks comprehensive.
“The American people want our border secured, our laws enforced, and the problems in our immigration system fixed to strengthen our economy,” the leaders said in their statement. “But they don’t trust a Democratic-controlled Washington, and they’re alarmed by the president’s ongoing insistence on enacting a single, massive, Obamacare-like bill, rather than pursuing a step-by-step, common-sense approach to actually fix the problem.”
While most Democrats want an immigration reform bill that deals with a pathway to citizenship and border security, the Republican majority is divided.
Some GOP lawmakers don’t want a bill at all, while others want to concentrate only on border security.
The House Judiciary Committee already has passed, with only Republican votes, a group of piecemeal immigration measures that do not address legalization, which some in the GOP have labeled “amnesty.”
Furthermore, some Republicans worry that they could face primary opposition if they support immigration reform.
Even so, some members of the GOP have warned rejecting reform could spell doom if it is not handled in a politically sensitive way. Latino voters have largely moved away from the Republicans in recent elections, and failure on immigration reform would make it hard to win them back.
Carney warned Republicans that immigration reform has wide public support.
“It cannot be acceptable broadly and in the long term that immigration reform would be blocked because some minority of House Republicans is concerned about a primary challenge from the far right,” Carney said.
“That’s not a good argument. It’s not a good argument politically. It’s certainly not a good argument economically,” he said.
Boehner is trying to manage a fractious GOP conference that has bucked him on other legislative efforts, mostly notably a recent surprise defeat of the farm bill. Boehner earlier vowed he would not bring an immigration bill to the House floor unless it had the support of a majority of his fellow Republicans.
A Washington Post analysis of six key House votes, published Wednesday, reveals that just 46 Republicans voted with their party leaders on all six measures.
“The takeaway is that John Boehner has the worst job in politics. I’m not sure Jefferson could get 218 votes in our conference,” Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., was quoted as saying, a reference to the minimum number of votes needed to pass legislation in the House.