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The Wrong Fix for the Wrong Problem

The immigration bill will only make things worse for the middle class—and the GOP.

Jul 8, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 41 • By JAY COST
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More fundamentally, as Fred Bauer has argued at length in National Review, the flaws of the Senate immigration bill “pose significant problems for the future success of conservative ideas, Republican renewal, and the restoration of American economic growth.” The immigration bill would accelerate rather than combat the economic decline of the middle class. As Bauer argues, “endorsing an immigration bill that undermines wages, perpetuates economic and cultural divisions, and enshrines a new bureaucracy would seem a stumbling block for a GOP seeking to restore itself as the party of economic dynamism, popular prosperity, and limited government.”

In addition, the Republican party should be responsive to the growing sense among voters that Washington is broken, that it treats people differently depending on their political connections. The outrage sparked by the Wall Street bailout, the stimulus, and Obamacare helped fuel the Tea Party, and now it is driving public anger over the unfair practices of the Internal Revenue Service. A party that presumes to call itself Republican—a word suggesting equal treatment under the law—cannot ignore the increasingly antirepublican quality of public policy. Promising to end the double-dealing and special privileges of politics-as-usual could help persuade voters that the GOP is looking out for average people.

But once again the Gang of Eight bill heads in the wrong direction. It is larded with the special favors that characterized Obamacare. The Gang of Eight granted the AFL-CIO and the Chamber of Commerce extraordinary access, allowing them to draft large swaths of the guest worker program. And there are special provisions for key senators. The bill would extend the Travel Promotion Act of 2009 to aid the casino industry, to the satisfaction of Nevada senators Harry Reid and Dean Heller. There is a $1.5 billion jobs program inserted at the urging of socialist senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Alaska received a carve-out for its seafood industry, a boon to senators Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich.

There may be other payoffs buried in the bill that reporters haven’t found yet. After all, the legislation was largely crafted in secret, rushed through the Senate Judiciary Committee, and then passed last Thursday after a major rewrite was published the preceding Friday. This is just the sort of political gamesmanship that produced the Tea Party backlash of 2010, which not coincidentally produced the biggest victory the GOP has enjoyed over congressional Democrats since the 1920s.

None of this is to deny that immigration reform should be a policy priority for the Republican party, nor is it a commentary on the merits of various approaches. There is a wide array of opinion within the GOP on that front, and a healthy debate is a good thing.

The point is that the Gang of Eight bill hurts the Republican party in ways that are central to its long-term viability. The GOP is not going to thrive if it is perceived as conspiring to reduce wages, increase unemployment, give newly legalized immigrants a hiring advantage over citizens, or grant special favors to politically connected interests. If Republicans want to return to the political majority, they need to stand, forcefully and unequivocally, for the middle class and against special interests—and that means vigorously exposing the flaws in the Gang of Eight bill.

Jay Cost is a staff writer at The Weekly Standard.

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