President Obama is starting to use the power of the presidency to push House Republican leaders to pass a comprehensive immigration bill — a risky change of his largely hands-off strategy on the issue so far this year.
The White House began the new stepped-up campaign Wednesday by releasing a report touting the economic benefits of passing an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws.
Obama and Vice President Joe Biden also plan to huddle with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Wednesday morning to discuss the “administration’s effort to urge the House to take action” on immigration reform, according to the president’s daily schedule. The president’s gathering at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building will take place the same day as a critical House Republican meeting expected to set the tone for the House’s handling of immigration reform.
The real pressure will come when the president takes his immigration reform push on the road in the coming months. Obama is expected to take his case for legalizing 11 million immigrants now living in the U.S. and revising other aspects of the nation’s immigration law to key battleground states where Hispanics voted for him in large numbers such as New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado and Florida.
But Obama’s high-profile leverage could backfire. Republicans in those key states must worry about the Hispanic vote in general elections, but many must first fend off potential primary challengers from the right.
So far this year, Obama has largely shied away from high-profile immigration events while a bipartisan cadre of senators hashed out their immigration differences in sensitive negotiations.
But with the Senate bill passed, the focus has turned to the Republican-controlled House, which is deeply divided on the immigration issue. Most conservatives are rejecting the comprehensive Senate-passed bill, viewing it as rewarding lawbreakers and encouraging others to follow their lead. Instead, many conservatives want to pass beefed up border security measures only while others are expressing some willingness to allow illegal immigrants who came to the country as children to become citizens.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has promised his GOP colleagues that he will not schedule a vote on the Senate-passed immigration bill. Rather than a comprehensive approach, Boehner has moved a handful of immigration bills that are narrowly focused on specific issues such as border security and expanding legal immigration.
While House Republicans are determining their approach this week, Obama has waded into the issue. The White House report released Wednesday promises a number of economic benefits for passing comprehensive immigration reform, including increased productivity, higher gross domestic product and decreased budget deficits.
The report begins by highlighting a Congressional Budget Office estimate that enacting the Senate-passed immigration reform bill would increase real GDP by 3.3. percent in 2023 and 5.4 percent in 2033 — an increase of roughly $700 billion in 2023 and $1.4 trillion in 2033 in today’s dollars.
It also plays to Republicans’ tendency to favor entrepreneurs and business investments by touting provisions in the Senate bill that would grant newly created temporary and permanent visas to immigrants who demonstrate they have business ideas that have attracted U.S. investment or revenue and will create jobs. The report also notes provisions in the measure that would protect U.S. workers and deter future illegal immigration by imposing stricter rules against hiring undocumented workers and providing tougher border security.
The White House also pointed to CBO estimates that the Senate bill would reduce the federal deficit by $850 billion over the next 20 years by adding taxpayers to the rolls and improve the long-term financial stability of Social Security by adding younger workers to the U.S. workforce.