By Mike Lillis - 05/07/13 05:34 PM EDT
A new conservative report estimating immigration reform will cost taxpayers trillions of dollars is full of holes and won’t sink the reform push this year, Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) said Tuesday.
The Heritage Foundation, a right-wing group headed by former-Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), warned this week that the Senate's bipartisan proposal granting legal status to millions of immigrants in the country illegally would hike long-term deficit spending by $6.3 trillion.
“My sense is you're seeing the percolation that occurs when an issue really does have an opportunity to become law,” Becerra, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said during a press briefing in the Capitol. “And what I hope is that Republicans will continue on this track of saying, ‘It's better to fix a broken immigration system, than to just give up.’”
Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.), vice-chairman of the caucus, piled on, arguing that the Heritage report is simply a desperate effort by opponents of immigration reform to kill any momentum to pass a bill this year.
“It's really more about taking as much gunk as you can, throwing it against the wall and seeing what sticks,” Crowley said.
Released Monday, the Heritage report estimated that the Senate Gang of Eight's proposal granting legal status to the 11 million immigrants in the country illegally would cost the government an additional $9.4 trillion in federal benefits while resulting in only $3.1 trillion in new tax revenue.
The report has fueled the resistance from conservatives opposed to the legalization effort – which they consider "amnesty" – while amplifying the Republican divisions over the fate of the Senate bill.
In one camp are conservatives like DeMint and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who argue that the country simply can't afford the Senate proposal.
“At a time when our nation’s major entitlements are already nearing bankruptcy, we cannot afford to add another $6.3 trillion in long-term net costs to already over-burdened state, local, and federal governments,” Sessions said Monday in a statement.
In the other camp are Republicans like Sen. Jeff Flake (Ariz.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.), who say the Heritage analysis ignores a number of fiscal benefits associated with legalizing immigrants who are in the United States illegally.
“The Congressional Budget Office has found that fixing our broken immigration system could help our economy grow,” Ryan said Monday in a statement. “A proper accounting of immigration reform should take into account these dynamic effects.”
The disagreement is just the latest reminder why Congress has failed for a generation to pass sweeping immigration reform.
Becerra said Tuesday that, while the Republican split on immigration is real, there remains enough political interest among GOP leaders to pass a comprehensive reform bill this year.
“To some degree, I think the Republicans are tying themselves up in knots, because I'm not sure they have yet settled on where they want to go,” he said. “I do believe, though, that there is a growing and critical mass of Republicans in the House and the Senate who are joining Republicans throughout the country in saying, 'We just have to fix this broken immigration system.’
“To do nothing would, essentially, be exactly what all these [critics] say they didn't want,” he added, “which is some form of amnesty for a system that allows us not to understand who's in our country.”