Jeff Sessions deserves a lot of credit for this memo he wrote on the Senate’s (really Charles Schumer’s) immigration bill. Sessions rightly points out that the Senate bill would enormously increase low-skill immigration and that this would damage the economic prospects of low-skill US citizens and current residents. And this is a population that already has an eleven percent unemployment rate and has been enduring a thirty year decline in wages and family formation.
Sessions writes that, rather than trying to increase low-skill immigration, Republicans should be trying to win over working-class voters of all racial and ethnic backgrounds. Sessions is right of course, but there is almost no way to overstate the bad faith of many of the employer-interest supporters of Gang of Eight-style immigration reform. To start with, the “elite” Republicans that support the Gang of Eight deal want it because it will grind down the wages of low-skill workers. Furthermore, the employer-interest lackeys in the Republican party are supporting the bill as a way of seeming to try to solve the party’s demographic problems without addressing the party’s economic policy weaknesses. The Republican National Committee’s “autopsy” went out of its way to come out in favor of “comprehensive” immigration reform in order to address the party’s weaknesses among nonwhites, but the same report ignored what Tim Carney called the most important statistic in the 2012 presidential exit poll. Fifty-three percent of the voters believed that Romney’s policies favored the rich and only thirty-four percent believed Romney’s policies favored the middle-class. The RNC team excluded this information and then suggested making immigration policy even worse for the working-class.
The Republican activist base can counterbalance the employer lobbies. For all the pressure of the united employer lobbies, the majority of Senate Republicans voted against the Senate bill. If the House Republicans pass an expansion of low-skill immigration, it will be later in the year when they hope rank and file conservatives aren’t looking. Even when the employer interests are united and motivated and the conservative activist base is demoralized from the results of the last election, it is still a fair fight. The Republican party has the resources within itself to move in a better direction.
Republicans should look at Jeff Sessions when he writes:
Indeed, more than a few in our party will argue that immigration reform must “serve the needs of businesses.” What about the needs of workers? Since when did we did we accept the idea that the immigration policy for our entire nation—with all its lasting social, economic, and moral implications—should be tailored to suit the financial interests of a few CEOs?
Sessions makes the key point that the priorities of the business lobbies don’t have to be the top priorities of a broad center-right party at every moment. The Republican party can and should be the party that is more favorable to business in general. It ought to be the party of relatively lower taxes, lower spending and lower regulation, but that does not mean it has to be an extension of the Chamber of Commerce’s lobbying operation. It can be the party that recognizes that too high taxes on high-earners will dampen economic growth and ultimately injure the economic interests of workers across the income distribution. But that isn’t enough. Republicans can, at the same time, be the party that recognizes that access to health insurance for struggling working-class families is a higher priority than bringing the top marginal income tax rate to below the George W. Bush level of 35%. The Republican party can be the party that provides conservative answers to the question “What about the needs of workers?” They can start by stopping laws that will reduce the wages of struggling workers.