Fed Chair Ben Bernanke this week listed the choices. “To avoid large and unsustainable budget deficits,” he said in a speech on Wednesday, “the nation must choose among higher taxes, modifications to entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare, less spending on everything else from education to defense, or some combination of the above.”
Bernanke is almost certainly right about “some combination,” but he leaves out one other possible remedy that should be included in that combination: Immigration.
You see, the biggest reason Social Security is in trouble, and Medicare as well, is because America is aging so fast. It’s not just that so many boomers are retiring. It’s also that seniors are living longer. And families are having fewer children.
Add it all up and the number of people who are working relative to the number who are retired keeps shrinking.
Forty years ago there were five workers for every retiree. Now there are three. Within a couple of decades, there will be only two workers per retiree. There’s no way just two workers will be able or willing to pay enough payroll taxes to keep benefits flowing to every retiree.
This is where immigration comes in. Most immigrants are young because the impoverished countries they come from are demographically the opposite of rich countries. Rather than aging populations, their populations are bursting with young people.
Yes, I know: There aren’t enough jobs right now even for Americans who want and need them. But once the American economy recovers, there will be. Take a long-term view and most new immigrants to the U.S. will be working for many decades.
Get it? One logical way to deal with the crisis of funding Social Security and Medicare is to have more workers per retiree, and the simplest way to do that is to allow more immigrants into the United States.
Immigration reform and entitlement reform have a lot to do with one another.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) spoke over the weekend at an immigration rally in Las Vegas, vowing to tackle the reform issue quickly. The senator said he has 56 votes on the legislation, and needs to find “a handful of Republicans.”
Speaking before a crowd of more than 6,000, Reid, a vulnerable incumbent, assured his audience of his commitment. “We’re going to come back, we’re going to have comprehensive immigration reform now,” he said. “We need to do this this year. We cannot wait.”
Reid’s motivations are hardly a secret. The senate leader not only has a genuine interest in the issue, but he’ll also need considerable support from fast-growing Latino communities in Nevada if he has any chance of keeping his job.
Sarah Kate Kramer at Feet In 2 Worlds:
At the rally, Reid tried to find middle ground, simultaneously outlining a path to citizenship and talking about protecting American borders. Under his proposed legislation, to gain legal status immigrants would pay “a penalty and a fine, people will have to work, stay out of trouble, pay taxes, learn English.” In his prepared remarks, Reid also tied immigration reform to the economic recovery, saying,
“It is about jobs. It is about getting people back to work, getting our economy back on track and helping it grow.”
Some analysts questioned if Reid’s speech was primarily directed at strengthening his Hispanic constituent base, as he faces a difficult election fight this fall. Hispanics helped put Nevada in the Democratic column in the last election, though that could change if Democrats fail to make immigration reform a priority.
I’d say it’s pretty unlikely that comprehensive immigration reform happens this year. But then, who cares what I think? Harry Reid is in charge of the Senate, and he says he’s got 56 votes, and it’s gonna happen. “We need a handful of Republicans,” he told an immigration rally in Las Vegas.
The cynical take, of course, is that Reid is running for reelection in a state that’s about 20 percent Hispanic. But that suggests an important change in the political reality: The cynical thing for Democrats to do in an election year might be to pursue immigration reform. And that would make immigration reform a much likelier addition to the agenda.
As Ron Brownstein frequently points out, Obama won fewer than 40 percent of working-class whites in 2008. Congressional Democrats may well do even worse this year. But it’s hard to believe they can do that much worse, or that they can do much to change their standing among this group. It’s also not clear that immigration is a big motivator for these voters: The GOP tried to use it in 2006 against the Democrats, and the effort pretty much fell flat on its face.
Actually, it did worse than that: It drove Latino voters toward the Democrats. Obama won 67 percent of Hispanics in 2008 — a much better showing than Democrat made in 2004. The fear in 2010, however, is that Hispanics won’t show up to vote. If Democrats actually pursue immigration reform, their participation becomes likelier. And if Republicans — or tea partyers, or conservative talk radio — overreact to the prospect of immigration reform, their participation becomes virtually assured.
Markos Moulitsas at Daily Kos:
There will be tough contested Senate races in many of those states — Reid’s Nevada, of course, but also California, Colorado, Illinois, Florida, North Carolina, and maybe even Iowa, Washington, and Arizona. Meanwhile, we’ll have hot governor races races in California, Iowa, Texas, Illinois, Georgia, New Mexico, and Florida. And almost all of these states will have bitterly contested House races.
Republicans will have a tough choice — either play to the xenophobic nativist tendencies of their teabagger base, or limit damage to a Latino electorate that is growing at amazing rates. As Bush pollster Matthew Dowd told the Chicago Tribune in 2002:
We can’t survive as a party without getting more of the Hispanic vote.
Or, as Dowd told the Wall Street Journal in 2006:
the fact (is) that the Latino vote in this country is the fastest-growing demographic of the electorate — it’s grown 400 percent in the last 20 years. So this is going to keep happening. It’s dynamic, it’s growing. And I think both political parties understand that it’s a demographic that is probably one of the most important — you know, who’s going to have majority status in this country.
It’s actually a good wedge for Democrats. They need Latinos properly motivated to hit the polls this November in order to help stem losses. Republicans need to stop their bleeding with this key and rapidly growing demographic. And without the nativism, the GOP would be well-positioned to compete for the Latino vote on social issues alone.
So both parties have reason to make immigration reform happen. It really will come down to how fearful the GOP’s immigration moderates are of their teabagger base.
Marcos can’t quite seem to write “teabagger” often enough to fully get the taste of it out of his mouth in a post pointing out Harry Reid’s call for immigration reform this year. Kos posits that as an electoral firewall for the Democrats. So, let’s see …. The country is plagued by high unemployment and will continue to be well beyond 2010. A rush in new citizens, many of them under, or un-employed, would also set them up for full health care benefits at taxpayer’s expense. Blacks, the most reliable Democrat constituency, are already un-motivated without Obama on the ballot and many of them have concerns overimmigration reform, as unemployment is even higher among their ranks. And their communities tend to see the greatest influx of illegal immigrants.
And that’s the trump card kos sees Democrats playing in 2010? Good luck with that.
[…] the real reason do it is long-term. Republicans won’t be so self-destructively xenophobic forever and if enough time goes by, we may end up with a bipartisan immigration reform bill or even a reform bill passed under a Republican president (don’t forget that this is what Rove wanted to do after the 2004 election). That could seriously blunt Democrats’ advantage among Latino voters. If Democrats can pass a good, comprehensive immigration reform bill while teatards are marching around with badly spelled anti-Latino signs and Tancredistas are attempting to mount filibusters, you’re looking at a serious long-term win for Democrats. Now is the perfect time for Democrats to do this.
When God sends you teahad, make teahad-ade.
Julissa Trevino at The Washington Independent:
None of this has been ignored by the right. Just like the Washington Monthly, the Right Side News reports on Democrats’ use of immigration as a political strategy.
Those wonderful Democrats, now scared witless they are going to be mauled politically at the polls this coming November, have to move as quickly as possible to get those millions of illegal aliens citizenship and, even more important, get them registered to vote so they can vote for the dems who secured their citizenship while overlooking the fact that they are criminals. Remember, Latino voters were crucial to President Obama’s win in 2008.
Whether or not Democrats support immigration reform because of November elections, the reassurance from Reid and Durbin comes at a good time — but activists are going to expect more than words. “The commitment we received from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was unequivocal,” said Deepak Bhargava, executive director of the Center for Community Change, in a press release today. “While the words spoken by Sens. Durbin and Reid are welcomed, they must now be backed by actions.”
Christopher Beam at Slate:
The biggest problem is the calendar. Right after stepping off the campaign trail, Reid said that the Senate will not be tackling immigration reform during this work period, which extends through the end of May. Instead, they’ll be tackling jobs bills, food-safety legislation, financial regulatory reform, and a bill that would address campaign finance and the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. That leaves June and July for the Supreme Court nomination, an energy bill (which seems to keep slipping down the list), and whatever priorities they didn’t manage to address in the spring. Congress takes August off, and after that the members will be campaigning.
All this is not to say Reid can’t squeeze in immigration reform. But for that to happen, everything would have to go according to plan—which, if health care reform was any indication, is unlikely. Also, Reid’s promise Saturday was eerily similar to one he made last year.
Then there’s the matter of votes. Reid says he has 56 votes for a bill, the exact contours of which remain unclear. He needs four more. But there are enough Democrats firmly against reform that the remaining four would have to be mostly or all Republicans, according to a Daily Kos analysis. You’d think that would be simple, given that 12 Republicans—including Lindsay Graham, Judd Gregg, John Kyl, John McCain, and Olympia Snowe—voted in favor of immigration reform in 2007. But just because they supported it then doesn’t mean they support it now. That was a different bill under a Republican president. For example, Obama’s version probably wouldn’t include a temporary guest worker program favored by Republicans. (Labor unions have always opposed the idea.) It may also include a biometric identification card to help employers verify that their employees are legal immigrants, which freaks out civil liberties advocates on the left and small-government conservatives on the right, despite efforts to pitch it as just a high-tech Social Security card.
Lastly, there’s the politics. Sure, passing a bill would help Reid, whose state is a quarter Hispanic. And the Latino vote has been a “key demographic” for both parties for so long that it can probably retire the title. But Democrats less reliant on Latino turnout would be criticized for putting the economy in danger during a recession. Some economists, including Robert Reich, argue that immigration reform would actually help the economy and reduce the deficit by bringing more young people into the taxpaying fold. Others argue it would boost GDP in the long run. But that’s a tough sell to voters focused on holding down jobs now.
Harry Reid can do whatever he wants, of course. He’s the majority leader. And what he wants may simply be to show he made a good-faith effort, after which everybody can go home. It’s like his recent pledge to revive the public option even though it had no chance of passing. He got points for trying—or appearing to try. Likewise with immigration reform. Whether or not a bill reaches the Senate floor, Reid wins. Actual reform is just a bonus.