A prominent conservative group is taking a pre-emptive swipe against opponents who say an immigration overhaul could blow a hole in the federal budget. Josh Culling, the government affairs manager for Americans for Tax Reform, sent a memo to some 800 GOP staffers on Capitol Hill, urging them to take a careful look at the research about the fiscal impact of immigration. Mr. Culling took particular aim at a 2007 Heritage Foundation study by Robert Rector that concluded immigration changes would cost more than $2 trillion.
Mr. Rector is working on a follow-up report on the fiscal impact, and this time other conservatives want to get out ahead of it. Mr. Culling said the earlier study, released during the last big congressional fight over immigration, “had maximum impact. Those Republicans and conservatives that were on the fence, a lot of them said, ‘All right, we’re a ‘no’ for fiscal reasons.’”
Mr. Culling said there are two main issues with the Heritage paper: It assumes that anyone who gains legal status will be eligible for government benefits programs and it doesn’t use dynamic scoring, which estimates the economic benefits or losses a policy change could have. The Congressional Budget Office often calculates that macroeconomic impact, but it doesn’t include it in the legislation’s official price tag.
“Our ask to the Republicans on the Hill is just hold on a second,” Mr. Culling said. “Take a look at the merits of the research.”
His memo, addressed to Republican chiefs of staff, legislative directors and immigration staffers, directs recipients to a paper that criticizes Mr. Rector’s methodology. It also points to an alternative immigration analysis by the Heritage Foundation, which says immigrants contribute more in tax revenue than they use in services and lists other favorable economic impacts.
“It’s highly unusual for me to be reacting to a prebuttal,” said Mike Gonzalez, vice president of communications for the Heritage Foundation, who lauded Mr. Rector’s research.
“The reason why so many people are zinging him before the paper comes out is because he is influential,” Mr. Gonzalez said. “He has taken the time to calculate these costs.”
As a bipartisan group of senators irons out the final details of a sweeping proposal to rewrite the nation’s immigration laws, a split has emerged in the GOP between those willing to embrace immigration changes and who oppose a plan they equate to “amnesty” for millions in the U.S. illegally. But the cost of the bill is sure to be an important factor for most GOP lawmakers and even some fiscally conservative Democrats. Members of the bipartisan Senate group have acknowledged it’s important to keep the cost low if they hope to gain broader GOP support at a time when many, particularly in the House, are focused on budget-cutting.
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