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Rob Horowitz: Progress Possible On Immigration Reform

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

 

Few things are more important to long-term economic success and restoring the promise of the American Dream, believes Rob Horowitz.

The set of principles on immigration reform unveiled last week by House Republican leaders is a positive step forward, serving as an indication that progress this year on this important issue is still very much a possibility.

While the principles advanced by Speaker Boehner (R-OH) and his leadership teams fall far short of embracing all of the elements of the comprehensive legislation that passed the Senate by an overwhelming 66-32 margin early last summer, they provide sufficient constructive components to point the way towards a negotiation with the real potential to reach common ground. For example, this new House Republican outline includes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who came here as children and provides legal status for a large group of other undocumented immigrants who came here as adults. As the White House indicates, if House Republicans won’t specifically preclude a more widely available path to citizenship such as the one contained in the Senate bill from being considered at a future date, a compromise that provides significant improvements in our immigration system is achievable.

A path to citizenship

Still, getting as much of the legislation that passed the Senate to be included in what ultimately passes the House will be President Obama’s goal. The Senate legislation aims to fix our broken immigration system by paving the way for the 11 million or so undocumented immigrants already here to emerge from the shadows and fully participate in American life, opening up our doors more widely through expanded legal immigration targeted to attract the world’s best and brightest, and stepping up enforcement to prevent future illegal immigration. More specifically, it creates a tough, but broadly available path to citizenship. It offers sensible interim steps, permitting undocumented immigrants already here in the nation to immediately emerge from the shadows. It also expands the number of visas available for highly skilled workers while providing them with a smoother path to permanent residency, steps up enforcement, and puts substantially increased resources into border security.

Among other benefits, the adoption of most of the components of the Senate bill would be a needed shot-in-the-arm for the economy. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that adopting the Senate bill in its current form would increase economic growth by 3.3% and reduce federal budget deficits by nearly $200 billion over the next ten years. This projected increase in economic growth and tax revenues is largely a function of the fact that the legislation would result in a significant increase in the labor force.

Some progress is better than no progress

But important incremental progress is better than no progress at all. The House Republican leadership principles do open up the possibility of an agreement that accomplishes a good part of the Senate bill’s objectives including more visas for highly skilled workers enabling the United States to recruit more of the world’s best and brightest—one of the most important keys to boosting our economic competitiveness. It is encouraging that there was an initial positive response to the set of principles among House Republicans, according to reporting by The Wall Street Journal.
 
Hard line conservatives and Tea Party activists, however, remain strongly opposed. Staunch immigration reform opponent Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) is already meeting with House opponents of reform to plan an all-out effort to stop any progress. Seizing on the current concern in the electorate about reduced career opportunities and inequality, Sessions said, “We need to move Americans off of welfare and into good-paying jobs—not replace them with lower-wage workers from abroad. Lawmakers must decide who they represent: immigration activists and powerful interests, or millions of struggling and unemployed Americans. Republicans have an opportunity to stand alone as the one party dutifully representing the legitimate interests of the American worker.”

The bumpy road ahead

As polling on this issue tells us, the arguments of Sessions and other opponents of immigration reform do not play well with the broader general electorate, but they can and do strike a responsive chord among a substantial percentage of Republican primary voters. As a result, the road ahead is likely to be bumpy. A strong and well-funded campaign by the business community and other advocates of comprehensive immigration reform is still absolutely essential for success. The good news is that with the release of this set of principles, the House Republican leadership has demonstrated that they are serious about getting something accomplished. That creates the potential for making substantial, if hard won gains, on this important issue. Few things are more important to long-term economic success and restoring the promise of the American Dream.
 

Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island.

 

Related Slideshow: 10 Questions Pell Has to Answer When Running for Gov of RI

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10. Pell's Base?

Where is Pell’s voter base going to come from?

It is difficult to identify Clay Pell’s base beyond a few prep school chums (in California) and the lovely people who live on Bellevue Avenue in Newport.  
 
Every winning candidate needs a core base to leverage to win.
 
Taveras is counting, in part, on the Hispanic community as his base.
 
Raimondo is working to solidify two core groups – women and fiscal conservative Democrats.
 
Pell, who is both wooing and being wooed by progressives and public sector unions (see #6), must grow beyond the group the summers in Newport.
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9. Seriously

Seriously – Another No Private Sector Experience Governor?

Voters should understand that two sources of revenue have funded Clay Pell’s adult life – the federal government and trust funds.  His public service in the Coast Guard is admirable, but Clay Pell has never had to worry about: 
 
Mortgage, rent, car, health insurance, groceries, credit card, electric, oil/gas, telephone, cable, cellphone, college loans, tuition, or even yacht payments.  
 
They were all taken care of before his own birth.
 
He has to convince voters that he is credible.
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8. Decision making

Has he ever had to make an executive decision?

There is no indication that Clay Pell has ever had to make a significant management decision in his life. We all saw how David Cicilline struggled with managing Providence’s budget – Mayor’s offices and Governor’s offices are tough places for on-the-job learning.
 
Like their decision making or not, both Taveras and Raimondo have had to make executive decisions – Pell is going to need to assure voter he can make management decisions (See tough decisions below).
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7. Ordinary RIers

Can Pell connect to Rhode Islanders?

Most of the places Clay Pell spent his formative years, Rhode Islanders have not experienced.  The reason why – they are private clubs, top-flight private schools and colleges. The Thacher School to Harvard to Georgetown Law School.  Each of these premier schools has an annual tuition of more than $50,000 a year.
 
While Pell may claim to be committed to “ordinary” people (as he said in a WJAR interview), he needs to demonstrate that he is can understand the plight of unemployed and underemployed Rhode Islanders.
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6. Progressives

Progressives and Unions are in Love with Pell, is that good for RI?

Two powerful and influential groups in the Democratic primary are progressives and public service unions. With Rhode Island’s unemployment the worst in the United States and the economy, de facto, still in the recession, the next Governor will have many difficult decisions. 
 
The decisions will include difficult budget choices – not likely to be popular with public sector unions and progressives.
 
As the Wall Street Journal wrote this week, "...makes him attractive to public unions who are likely to spend heavily in the primary. Robert Walsh, the executive director of the National Education Association Rhode Island, has already welcomed Mr. Pell's entry into the race. "Suddenly, an opportunity appears."
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5. Kwan Factor

Is he more than Michelle Kwan’s husband?

Rhode Islanders love a good celebrity and Clay Pell’s wife Michelle Kwan is certainly a celebrity. She won her first ice-skating World Championship in 1996 when she was just 15 years old. And had qualified for the Olympics in 1994 at age 13 only to be bumped by the recovering Nancy Kerrigan.
 
The two-time Olympian Kwan will wow Rhode Island during the campaign, but will she overshadow her husband?
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4. Claiborne Factor

Is he more than Claiborne Pell’s Grandson?

The venerable Claiborne de Borna Pell retired from the United States Senate nearly two decades ago. While older voters may be fond of the deceased Senator’s legacy – many Rhode Islanders were not old enough to vote or did not live in the state when Pell was in office.
 
While the Pell family name may have some limited impact and young Clay Pell’s campaign will dredge up lots of legacy stories (so many you may think Clay was the author of the legislation creating the Pell grants).
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3. GOP Factor

Can Pell beat a Republican?

Pell’s ability to skate between Raimondo and Taveras to win the Democratic primary in a coalition of union and progressive’s support will force him to win from the left.
 
Coming out of the primary will have defined him to the general election voter as a liberal of the highest degree. Brookings Institute Vice President Darrell West recently told an audience during a speech at the Newport Art Museum that progressives are back in vogue (citing the recent election of ultra progressive Bill deBlasio as Mayor of New York), but with Rhode Island’s economy stuck in a recession, Pell may have a difficult time convincing voters in the General Election that he is viable.
 
Remember in the past five elections – Rhode Islanders have elected Republicans to the Governor’s office four times (Almond twice, Carcieri twice) and in the last election while a liberal Lincoln Chafee won, more than 60% of the voters cast a ballot for the conservative Frank Caprio (D), GOP candidate John Robitaille or the business leaning Moderate Party candidate Ken Block.
 
Either GOP candidate will be able to paint Pell as too liberal for the challenges facing Rhode Island’s stagnant economy (9.1% unemployment).
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2. Experience, any?

Does Pell have any experience?

Pell graduated from law school in 2008. That is right; Clay Pell has only been out of school for 5 plus years.
 
It is hard to believe that his experience in Coast Guard as a junior officer and his White House Fellowship qualifies him to be the chief executive of a state – he has never managed senior staff (he has never been senior staff), never managed employees of any significant scale, he has never managed a major budget, and he has zero economic development experience – a trait that some voters might look for after Chafee’s term.
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1. Tough Enough?

Is Pell tough enough?

Both Gina Raimondo and Angel Taveras demonstrated in the past three plus years in office the ability to make “tough” decisions.  
 
Taveras had to clean up the Cicilline budget mess that had nearly bankrupted the City of Providence and Taveras even fired all the teachers in the Capital City. Of course, he walked that dog backwards during the following months ensuring a lack of trust with both teachers and fiscal conservatives.  
 
Raimondo’s pension reform effort has drawn passionate support and venomous scorn.  Regardless, it has demonstrated Raimondo is battle tested.
 
Pell’s professional career is not only short (5 plus years), but also been advisory – the buck has never stopped at Clay Pell’s cubicle.
 
 
 

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