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Boehner’s conundrum

As the Senate closes in on a final vote on its comprehensive immigration reform bill, Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) life is about to get much more complicated. 

While 60 Senate votes was once a tough slog, the chamber appears headed toward a 70-vote margin after negotiators agreed to a “border surge” that would double the size of the Border Patrol and add hundreds of miles of new border fencing. In other words, the same Republicans who claim that the government has never created a job are now pushing a massive infrastructure and government jobs stimulus program. Just don’t tell them that Mexicans know how to use ladders. And shovels. 

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But if it takes billions of wasted taxpayer dollars to bring some Republicans aboard, that’s still better than the conservative dead-enders who thought the budget deficit was the worst thing ever until they found out that immigration reform made for good finances. 

The conventional wisdom was that immigration reform would help the deficit the first decade, but would explode it the second once those immigrants became U.S. citizens and qualified for benefits. Thus, xenophobic Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) demanded that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) score the bill for an extra 10 years beyond the standard decade. The results?

As expected, the first decade featured massive deficit reduction, to the tune of $200 billion. But the $700 billion to $1 trillion in deficit savings the second decade were a pleasant surprise to immigration proponents, and a stake in the heart of the naysayers. In addition, the CBO determined the nation’s gross domestic product would grow by an extra 3.3 percent the first decade, and 5.3 percent the second decade. So much for the economic arguments against reform. 

So what’s left? Good old-fashioned bigotry and time-honored conservative efforts to keep certain people from electoral participation. The xenophobes look at exit polls, see how Asians and Latinos voted, and conclude that these newly naturalized immigrants will vote heavily Democratic. And they are right. Those voters will vote heavily Democratic. But that’s what the GOP reaps for building a party around the politics of racial resentment. 

The answer to that electoral disadvantage isn’t more of the same, as the sanest Republicans understand. They know that without making inroads into the Latino and Asian vote, Republicans are doomed to perpetual minority status. Thus, the Senate appears ready to deliver an overwhelming vote in favor of immigration reform. 

Then all eyes will be on Tea Party Central, as Boehner and his merry band of misfits try to figure out how to handle the issue. The Speaker has promised that he won’t move any bill without the support of the majority of the Republican Caucus, so whatever that chamber passes — if anything — will be subpar. But then the House-Senate conference committee will write the real bill, and the fireworks will truly begin. 

Will Republicans trying to repair their image with Latinos (and Asians) really saddle the bill with additional punishments, such as denying these immigrants the benefits they are paying for — and which the CBO assured won’t explode the deficit? That kind of defeats the purpose of their whole endeavor. 

Given that the conference bill will be to the left of whatever the House produces, we’ll have one big final question: Will Boehner be the Speaker who doomed his party to the permanent fringe, or will he face personal excommunication for giving Republicans a future fighting chance?

Moulitsas is the publisher and founder of Daily Kos (dailykos.com)