NDN Blog

On Trust and “Enforcing the Laws” in the Immigration Reform Debate - A Response to Speaker Boehner

Today, Speaker Boehner once again repeated the new Republican excuse for inaction on immigration reform – the President has failed to enforce immigration laws, and cannot be trusted to see through commitments on border security and other enforcement objectives.  

Let’s take a quick look at both these claims.  
On the issue of border security, a new pragmatism has begun to break out in many quarters in what has long been a contentious issue.   In its introductory paragraph, the Senate Gang of 8 framework included these words:
 “And while border security has improved significantly over the last two Administrations…”
The Senate Judiciary Committee added more customs agents to the border to help facilitate our exploding trade relationship with Mexico, and no additional border guards.  The recent 2014 budget resolution made smart investments in border infrastructure, added more customs agents, and did not add more border patrol.  
The reason that as a nation we’ve begun to move beyond the “enforcement only” approach to the border is that after a decade of significant investment, better strategies and much greater cooperation with Mexico, the border is far safer than it was, net migration of unauthorized immigrants has dropped to zero all while trade with Mexico has more than doubled.  A reasonable look at the data would lead one to conclude that the border is on track to be safe and largely under control, with the main effort now modernizing a trade and tourism infrastructure designed for a trade relationship at levels hundreds of billions of dollars less than it is today.    
The Obama Administration deserves far more credit for managing the tough realities and politics of the border than they have gotten.  Our border is 2,000 miles long, it extends across four states, and the threat of cartel violence on the Mexican side is very real.  It is one of the busiest borders in the world, with billions of dollars of trade and millions of people crossing each week.  That the two largest border cities on the US side of the border, El Paso and San Diego, are the two safest large cities in America today is simply an extraordinary accomplishment.  4 of the 5 high traffic migration corridors are at or close to the widely accepted goal of a 90% effectiveness rate, spillover violence is rare, and just in the past few months Mexico has announced unprecedented efforts on their northern and southern borders which should do much to improve the situation in the years ahead.   More, of course, can be done, and the Senate bill invests in the things most border experts think is most needed now – better technology and more customs agents.  
Coming out of their retreat last week, the House leadership has adopted a very hard line on “securing the border,” and has repeatedly said the Obama Administration cannot be trusted on the issue.  Given its new centrality to their reform approach, the House leadership simply must put a real plan and budget for “securing” the border on the table immediately.  Their rhetorical rejection of the very real progress made on the border in recent years is a worrying sign about their lack of seriousness; and if they insist border security is a trigger even for legal status, no negotiations with the House should begin until they come to the table with an actual plan.  Trust works both ways.  The House leadership cannot expect the Senate to accept triggers on legal status/citizenship if the metrics and funding levels are not spelled out in great detail.   
The mischaracterization of the progress made by the Obama Administration impacts the interior enforcement portions of the “Standards” document as well.  At the root of the GOP’s concern is the Administration’s decision to prioritize criminal migrants for deportation, known as “prosecutorial discretion.”  In what is a tortured ideological position, the House GOP opposes this practice, preferring that law enforcement just round up everyone, and remarkably, NOT prioritize criminals.  The President used this rationale to authorize DACA, the 2012 executive order which gave DREAM-eligible youth relief from deportation.  The simple idea is that if the President can prioritize the front of the deportation line, he can also prioritize the back of it – determining that there is a class of unauthorized migrant who should not be deported.   
Thus by using DHS’s limited resources to get rid of the most dangerous of the unauthorized population, the Administration is, by this GOP logic, not enforcing immigration law.  Yes, this is a little hard to believe.  
One would not know from the “Standards” that President Obama has deported migrants at a higher rate than any other modern President, and has, in recent years, deported criminal migrants at double or triple the rate of previous Presidents.  It will be interesting to see how the House GOP can improve upon that record without providing billions in new resources, or rolling over local elected officials and law enforcement who will strenuously oppose the appropriation of local resources to enforce what is a federal responsibility.  
Given this track record, why exactly are the House Republicans walking from immigration reform?  The border is safer today, net migration is zero, deportations of criminal migrants are at all time highs while trade with Mexico has exploded, creating millions of jobs on both sides of the border.  There is a strong argument to be made that no President in American history has been more committed to enforcing our immigration laws and improving border security than President Obama.  If they are going to walk away from immigration reform for the 3rd time in the last decade, the House leadership are going to have find a far better set of excuses.  
For more information see the following backgrounders:
The Administration's Border Strategy Has Yielded Very Strong Results
NDN/NPI Background on Mexico Prior to Feb Visits by Pres Obama, Sec Pritzker

Thoughts On The President's Trade Agenda

Last week I offered my thoughts about why Members of Congress should proudly work with the President in his final three years to pass his ambitious trade agenda, extending our reach throughout Asia, Latin America and Europe.  While there have been some bumps in that process this week, I still remain optimistic that the President will be able leave office having completed both TPP and TTIP, as they are called. 

But to do so we are learning a few things.  The President will have to continue to sell his broader economic agenda with vigor to the American people, giving them a strong belief that he has a plan that can make their lives better in this new age of globalization.  He will have to find a way to work with Congress to provide more consultation and transparency in the fashioning of these and future trade agreements.  And USTR will have to demonstrate, through the agreements themselves, that we are indeed modernizing our approach to trade, raising standards and making our global system better and more responsive to the realities of the world as it is today. 

As I wrote in my piece, the geopolitical case for these agreements, and for the President's desire to strenghten the liberal international order in a time of great transformation, are compelling.   But to get these done in the next three years, the White House and its allies have an awful lot of work to do.  We at NDN welcome this debate as I think we have a good argument to make, and the issues at play here are perhaps the most important the Obama Administration will be involved in over the next three years.  But this will be a long process, a complicated one, and those who agree with us need to take this time and get very serious about marshalling our arguments and making our case over years, not just days, weeks and months.

One word of caution to my fellow advocates for the President’s trade agenda.  2014 isn’t the 1990s.  We are attempting to sell these far reaching arrangements not during a period of extraordinary growth, when median incomes went up more than $8,000 a family.  Workers today haven’t received a raise in 14 years, and have become far more skeptical that technology advances and globalization have been good for them and their families.  Way back in 2005 Rob Shapiro, current Rep. Joe Garcia and I wrote a landmark paper arguing that to continue to keep domestic support for global economic liberalization at 1990s levels, we need to do far more for workers and their families.  The President’s economic agenda this year, coupled with previous actions like health care reform, are the kinds of things we will need to enact if we are to pass these trade agreements with broad support from the American people. 

One area that we advocates also have to confront is the remarkable decline in public investment the US has seen in recent years.  At a time when we have the largest school-age population in US history moving through our schools, and global competition is more virulent than it has ever been, we are lowering our level of public investment, exactly the wrong response to what the American people need.  Public investment is half of what it was in the 1960s, and lower than it has been since the late 1940s.  One doesn’t have to have a PhD to know what happens if this trend continues – it is a guarantor of national decline for the United States.  See the graph below. 

We are already seeing warning signs about our competitive position which should be alarming policy makers.  The most recently released PISA study of adult skills from the OECD documents that our workers and students are falling far behind the rest of the developed world.  Even among a measure one would assume we would lead – problem solving in a technology dense environment for 16 to 24 year olds – the US is dead last in the OECD.  Dead last.  (see p93 here).

So we at NDN are saddling up for a three-year effort to make the case that needs to be made about the President’s trade agenda.  But we advocates will have to approach this effort in far different ways than we did in the 1990s.  More must be done, by both parties, for the American people themselves or we should not expect this effort to be easy, or successful.

"No Special Path" Does Not Preclude Citizenship

Friends – a quick point of clarification on a key point in the immigration reform debate.

Though the GOP is using the term “path to legalization,” this path does not preclude citizenship for undocumented immigrants.   What Rep. Goodlatte and other GOP leaders have been floating is the idea that formerly undocumented immigrants, with whatever legal status, can apply for a green card like anyone else, thus receiving “no special path.”  Once they receive the green card, they are then on a citizenship track – or path to citizenship - as a green card is the first step in the current legal process for an immigrant becoming a citizen.

So, while the House Republicans are talking about a path to citizenship, the proposals we’ve heard about in these talking stages do not contemplate a permanent second class status, and indeed many of the undocumented immigrants will receive citizenship in this process. 

For more on this see Greg Sargent's smart analysis in the Washington Post. 

An Enduring Legacy: The Democratic Party and Free and Open Trade

Looking back at the history of the Democratic Party since Franklin Roosevelt, modern Democrats have much to be proud of: the successful stewardship of our nation through WWII; the creation of the United Nations; a strong partnership with the GOP in fighting and winning the Cold War; rescuing the nation from the Great Depression and the Great Recession; the establishment of a strong and comprehensive safety net for the old and poor; courageous support of successful Civil Rights Era reforms; the launching of a 21st century American health care system that finally provides for universal coverage; a strong track record of job growth and deficit reduction in recent presidencies; and of late, the fight to extend equality to LGBT Americans and the growing ranks of people of color and immigrants (feel free to add things left out -- there are more, of course).

It is a remarkable track record indeed. But I want to make the case that of all these accomplishments, there is one more that has been the most consequential, that has done more to provide opportunity and alleviate poverty around the world than any other set of policies in modern history -- that is the creation of the global system launched by Presidents Roosevelt and Truman at the end of WWII built on the foundation of free and open trade.

There can be little doubt, looking back at global architecture established by the leaders of the Democratic Party at the end of WWII, that free and open trade was seen as inextricably linked to the promotion of democracy and political liberty around the world. That to prevent yet another World War, our leaders imagined a world at peace, where the industriousness and creativity of everyday people all around the world linked together through free and open trade would create a global middle class -- a sensible, powerful bulwark against totalitarianism of both right and left. This spirit is best captured in FDR's famous "Four Freedoms" speech, which is perhaps the most important speech given by a Democrat in the long and storied history of our party.

To a great degree this inherently liberal vision has both triumphed on the global stage, and worked. A majority of the world's 200-plus countries are some form of democracy today. Trade flows are exploding, a truly global middle class is emerging, standards of living are rising are all around the world, and poverty is falling at extraordinary rates -- all while the population of the world has more than tripled. Large scale global conflagrations have been avoided, and international institutions of peace and civility retain encouraging degrees of effectiveness almost 70 years after their creation.

This global system, imagined and built by leaders of the Democratic Party of the United States, has created more opportunity for more people than any other political system in human history. It is not without its flaws, and more must be done in the developed world and here in the US to ensure broad-based growth in an age of more virulent global competition and the "rise of the rest." But over this period, in this system, America itself has created unparalleled opportunity and prosperity for its own citizens, and produced technologies and companies who have made life better for billions of people around the world.

Through his vision of new trade liberalization arrangements in both the Pacific and the Atlantic, President Obama has put the weight of his presidency behind deepening, broadening and modernizing this successful global system. The trade deals would further liberalize trade in economies with more than 60 percent of global output. They do so while attempting to establish higher standards for labor and the environment, while fashioning new rules for the digital age in areas like cloud services and intellectual property. At their core these trade rounds bind countries to higher and more responsible standards of capitalism than they might practice otherwise, while opening foreign markets to US businesses who are far more prepared for the rigors of 21st century global competition than most of their peers.

From a geopolitical perspective, these far-reaching deals also keep America front and center in the economic and political arrangements of the Pacific, Latin America, and Europe. It re-affirms America's commitment to this free and open rules-based global system, providing a powerful counterbalance to those countries whose leaders have a different view of the political liberties and economic opportunities offered to their own people.

This last point deserves a bit of emphasis. We know from history that eras of peace and prosperity can give way to eras of repression and belligerence. Today, due to the in part to the peace and prosperity of the modern age, the world is very young. More than 50 percent of the people alive today are under 30. In many developing nations, two-thirds of their people are under 30. To a great degree these young people will dictate what kind of world we will have in the 21st century. It is essential, that as much as possible, this next global generation both be given a liberal and open global system, and be taught the lessons of why such a system is preferred to other, less liberal alternatives. Concluding these visionary deals, passing them through the US Congress and implementing them before President Obama leaves office will send a powerful signal to liberalism's opponents that this system will continue to prevail in the decades ahead.

And, of course, the opposite is true. If these agreements fail to pass through an inward looking Congress we will be sending exactly the wrong signal to the rising new generation soon to inherit power in the world -- that indeed free and open societies, built on responsible capitalism and respectful of human rights, were a product of a different era, lost to history by leaders and nations unwilling to renew their commitment to a global system that has done so much for so many.

The case for these nascent trade deals is powerful. But at the same time, proponents cannot ignore what has happened in the US economy since the global economy became truly global in the late 1990s and early part of the 21st century. Job growth in the US has slowed, and American workers have seen their wages stagnate. Policy makers here cannot really expect the American public to buy into these far-reaching agreements unless more is done to ensure their success in this more competitive world of the 21st century. Accompanying the passage of these trade deals should be a comprehensive agenda for the American people -- one that makes unprecedented investments in skills and knowledge, modern infrastructure, lower cost and cleaner energy, long-term research and development and innovative health technologies. We should also modernize our immigration system to meet the challenges of this global economy by passing a version of the Senate immigration bill, and raise the minimum wage. The US needs a new strategy to ensure our people's -- not just our company's success -- in a more competitive age (NDN has been arguing for such an agenda since 2005).

In the final years of the Obama presidency, the US Congress has an extraordinary opportunity to both strengthen and buttress the global system which has done so much good for the world for so long, and to raise our game at home so we can meet the challenges of what is becoming, inevitably, a more competitive world. If the two parties can come together to do both of these things, this will become an historic period indeed, a period where despite the rancor the two American political parties came together to make both the world and our nation stronger and better in a new, uncertain age.

As a lifelong Democrat, I am deeply proud of what our party has done over the past several generations. We have left America and the world far better than we found it. A major part of our party's success has been the construction of a global system which has given far better lives and more opportunities to billions of people. As we begin a needed debate about our economic and trade policies here in the US, my hope is that modern Democrats fashion a set of answers to the challenges of the moment that strengthen, modernize and improve this global system that is perhaps our party's greatest legacy.

You can find the original Huffington Post article from January 21st, 2014 here.  

Your Support Will Power Us in 2014

 As I look ahead to next year in Washington, there are four major battles our experienced team and well-wrought arguments are poised to add considerable value to: the debate over proper domestic economic policy in a new age of globalization; the passage of new, consequential trade and economic liberalization agreements; better strategies and policies towards the Middle East and North Africa;  and completing the nine year old effort to pass comprehensive immigration reform. There are other areas where we have, and will  continue, to offer leadership – political reform, better understanding of the changing demographics in the US, and the way mobile tech is changing us – but these four areas will be where NDN puts its stake in the ground, and fights the good fight next year.  

Your support today will help fuel these efforts.  It will pay for staff and contract policy work, help us upgrade our technology and improve the marketing of our ideas, and just give us a bit more muscle to engage during this consequential time in our nation’s history.   That’s why I hope you will give what you can - $5, $25, $100 or more – today and help us go into 2014 at full strength.

With the House Republicans demonstrating last week that they may try harder to advance the national interest now, more is possible next year.  Not assured, not likely, but possible.   And we will be doing what we do here at NDN – sophisticated thought and political leadership on tough challenges – to take advantage of this opportunity ensure that 2014 is not just a good year for the center-left, but the nation as a whole.   

Thanks for all that you do for us, and for the many other worthy organizations out there doing good work.  

Happy Holidays, and to a good 2014! 



Consequential Months Ahead for Obama Presidency

For those trying to take stock of US politics, last night’s elections confirmed what recent polls have indicated – Democrats head into 2014 in a somewhat stronger position than the degraded Republicans. 

But there is also a sense that the current climate is very unsettled.  Recent stumbles by President Obama raise questions about whether the Democrats can retain their advantage into next year.  While polls have Republicans at historic lows, the President is at the lowest recorded level of approval of his Presidency.  A bad shutdown influenced November jobs report is likely to add the pressure to see better outcomes from Washington

It is my assessment that the 2014 landscape, and perhaps the landscape for the rest of the Obama Presidency, will be determined by how well the President Obama’s very ambitious agenda fares in the months ahead. 

Consider what is in front of him, and the country now: an important debate about how to create growth and jobs in a more competitive global economy, deficit reduction, the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the Farm Bill, immigration reform, a fast-changing MENA region slipping further into chaos, enormous trade pacts in the Pacific and the Atlantic and post Snowden fallout both abroad and at home.  Of course there are many more critical issues, but even this partial list is daunting, huge, consequential.   

These many challenges present the President with a great opportunity to re-affirm a narrative of modern problem solver, uniquely qualified to understand the great challenges in front of us and with the courage to offer a set of solutions as big as the moment, and the skill and grit to see it through.   

I hope the President reaches back to his 2011 State of the Union Address, my personal favorite of his speeches to the Joint Sessions of Congress, to inform these next few months of his Presidency.  In that speech he seemed much more comfortable about leveling with the American people at how the world was changing, and how America needed to “up its game.”  It was a mature speech by a responsible leader, explaining while the world and our own country are going through deep, structural change, he had a big, thoughtful plan to ensure our success in transformative times.

This narrative is the very opposite of the “you can keep what you have” meme so present in the current debate over health care, or the nostalgic economic themes voiced in the President’s summer Knox College speech.   The truth is that in a time of great change, you can’t keep what you have.  There is no going back.  You/we are going to have something different.  And it is up to the President to make sure that these new times are better, not different, and certainly not worse, for the American people.  

I think the President has to return to some version of “upping our game” in the months ahead as it provides a much needed public rationale for his ambition.  Rather than these issues being seen through the divisive prism of Dem vs. Rep, his approach would be just to be doing what a leader does for his people in time of great transformation.  It is a political antidote to the politics of shutdown, and makes the Republican’s desperate nostalgia for times gone by more favorable to their approach look even more irresponsible and reckless.  It is “forward vs. backward” redux.  

These next few months will be among the most consequential of the Obama Presidency.  If Obamacare gets back on track, the economy continues to improve, our investments in the Middle East seem to be paying off, the President will be in a strong position to propose and fight for the rest of his appropriately ambitious agenda.  But even if these outcomes are undetermined in the days ahead, I think the President needs to adopt a different strategic approach to selling his agenda.  America is not going to have a smooth transition to a new, global age.  It is going to be a difficult one, one that requires sacrifice, risk, investment and honesty.  Mistakes are going to be made.  But the rest of the world is upping its game, and we, more than anything else, must up ours to retain our position in the world.  The choice about forward vs. backward, progress vs. decline needs to be made clearer, starker for the American people.  This is no ordinary moment in our history, and the political elites in the US need to stop pretending it is.  It is our responsibility to level with the American people, and have them participate as full partners in building this better America of the 21st century.  

The success of the President’s second term might very well come down to what happens with his bold agenda in the next several months.  To succeed, I think the President needs to take a step back from the day to day, create more of a national rallying cry for where we need to go, and to challenge Congress and the American people to come along with him.  Together, we can raise our game, and meet the challenges of a new day. 

With Long History of GOP Support, Immigration Reform Is Different

One of the main reasons significant progress on immigration is still possible in coming months is the long history of Republican leadership and support of the issue. With support from Republican voters, important elements of the Republican coalition and many important Republican leaders, immigration reform does not resemble far more divisive issues like health reform and the budget.   A strong Senate framework , coupled with a few modest changes being discussed in the House, provides Republican Members of Congress a powerful legislative package that they should be able to take home and proudly sell to their constituents. 
Consider the following: 
National Republican Leadership – immigration reform has long been an issue championed by national Republicans.  Ronald Reagan, both Bushes, and most recently 2008 Republican nominee John McCain were not just supporters of immigration reform, but national, spirited champions. 

Additionally the 2000 campaign of George W. Bush was the first American Presidential campaign to make extensive use of Spanish-language advertising and free media to reach a new generation of Hispanic immigrant voters.   It was in fact a Republican who pioneered these modern techniques, ones now being far more extensively deployed by Democrats than Bush’s successors.  
The most graphic example of this GOP leadership legacy this year came during the immigration reform debate in the U.S. Senate.  We witnessed a true bi-partisan legislative process, led by GOPers including McCain and Flake of AZ, and the final product passed with 68 votes, including 14 GOP Senators.   Few issues of significance in today’s Washington have seen this kind of comfortable, successful bi-partisan result. 

The Modern GOP Grew In Heavily Hispanic Parts of the United States – One of the reasons many national GOP leaders have been so supportive of immigration reform is that the modern GOP grew out of the Sun Belt, and the largest states in the Sun Belt – CA, FL, TX – have large immigrant and Hispanic populations.  
The first true conservative GOP Presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater, hailed from Arizona.  Nixon and Reagan came from California, the Bushes from Texas and John McCain from Arizona.  All in all 11 of the last 14 GOP nominees have come from AZ, CA and TX, giving these nominees and their Party great familiarity and comfort with the growing US Hispanic populations.  
Recent Polling Shows Immigration Reform Is Popular With Republican Voters  – An Americans for a Conservative Direction poll reported that 79% of Republican primary voters asked said it is “very important” to fix the current immigration system, with another 17% answering it is “somewhat important,” indicating 96% of what is arguably the party’s most devoted constituency think it is something Congress should address.

Furthermore, a poll by the Public Religion Research Institute and Brookings earlier this year found 53% of overall Republicans favor an earned path to citizenship, while 13% favor at least a path to legal residency.  A more recent survey by the PRRI showcases that a path to citizenship aligns with traditionally Republican values.  A strong majority of all Americans think immigration reform would benefit the economy by allowing illegal immigrants to pay taxes (84%), that illegal immigrants would work hard to earn citizenship (76%), and that they would only take jobs that Americans don’t want (64%).

This polling is consistent with polling on the issue going back to 2005.  There has been broad majority support for CIR, and deep support in the Republican Party itself, since this debate began almost a decade ago.   There is also, of course, passionate and deep opposition.  But it is a minority, even of Republican voters, in most polls. 
Large Parts of the Traditional GOP Coalition Support Immigration Reform –Unlike the current debates over Obamacare and the budget, large parts of the GOP coalition support immigration reform and want the GOP to work with the Democrats.   The Chamber of Commerce, High-Tech, Ag groups, anti-tax/pro-business leaders like Grover Norquist, Catholic and Evangelical leaders all support reform, and are aggressively lobbying their GOP representatives.   There are few other issues championed by President Obama that will ever attract this kind of broad-based support from traditional Republican groups.  
For years, the “divisiveness” of the immigration issue has been overstated.   There are few issues in Washington with such a bi-partisan history, and which enjoy so much support with voters of both parties.   The Senate gave the House a good bi-partisan framework to work from.   The House GOP has leaned into the issue much more than is understood right now, having passed five CIR related bills out of committee.  The House Democrats signaled their willingness to deal by grafting the House GOP’s border proposal onto their new CIR bill, HR 15.  And just this weekend we saw a House Republican, Rep. Jeff Denham, sign on to the House Democratic immigration bill, saying more of his colleagues would soon follow. 

While of course there is opposition coming from certain Republican circles, we are in fact closer to a deal today than any point since Senators McCain and Kennedy introduced their original legislation in 2005.
The current Senate/House bill gives House Republicans a lot to take home to their voters.  It grows the economy and reduces the deficit by a trillion dollars.  It strengthens border security and interior enforcement.  It invests in border infrastructure and adds more customs agents, allowing more job producing trade and tourism.  It makes our immigration skills-based and much more business friendly.   It helps resolve issues with visas for agricultural workers, something agribusiness has been clamoring for.   And the path to citizenship for the 11m undocumented immigrants is likely to be so arduous that those Republicans wanting to make sure they “don’t reward bad behavior” should be satisfied.  
When Republicans go home to make their case for why they voted to reform our antiquated immigration system, they know that while there are Republican voters and coalition partners who will decry them for taking this tough vote, there are far more voters, and far more powerful members of their coalition ready to reward their courage.   For after all, immigration reform has been as much a Republican as a Democratic issue over the past two generations of American politics.   And this history, and its legacy, is one of the main reasons we remain optimistic that Congress can overcome a nasty period and pass immigration reform in the months to come.

Slower Job Growth Could Spell Enormous Trouble for the GOP

We know now that the Great Shutdown of 2013 has been a catastrophe for the GOP.  It caused historic levels of across the board brand damage.  It prevented the GOP from drawing attention to the early, probably soon-to-be-fixed problems with the fall rollout of the ACA’s insurance exchanges.   And perhaps what is most perilous for the GOP, it puts the Party in grave danger of being blamed for an economic slowdown if one comes this fall and winter, something the new disappointing jobs report out today made a bit more likely. 
This last point could have a major impact on budget negotiations this fall, and again next year.  If the economic damage caused by the shutdown comes to be seen as event triggering slower growth, or even a mild recession, the GOP will be blamed.  Adding job loss and a slow down to the already decimated Republican brand could very well be enough to cause the House to go Democrat in 2014, while also creating even more lasting brand challenges. 

Thus, the Republican Party now has a major incentive, for arguably the first time in the Obama Presidency, to pursue policies that create immediate growth.  From a classical economic standpoint, this means taking threats of default and government shutdowns off the table to reduce “uncertainty;” avoiding large spending cuts which take money out of the economy and cause further job loss; and looking at, dare I say it, short term stimulus to prevent further slippage.   This path, of course, means abandoning their current party-wide obsession with spending cuts. 
Assuming that the Republican leadership is reading these events as I am, this new political landscape dramatically weakens the GOP’s negotiating position going into the current budget talks, making the final product likely to look a lot more like the Obama than the Ryan budget.  Of course, an agreement on such a budget would trigger a brutal internal budget fight between the GOP pragmatists and the Tea Party government cutting absolutists, causing even greater friction inside an already battered GOP (recognizing that it was internal tension over the budget which caused the govt shutdown in the first place). 
For Democrats, this new landscape offers two very important opportunities outside of prevailing in the coming budget talks.  First, it allows the Party to do lasting damage to the fallacious and damaging theological argument undergirding much of the radical right’s current economic approach – that reducing government spending is a necessary pre-condition for growth.    Weakening this argument in the public domain will not just weaken the power of the Republicans in Washington, but allow better and more appropriate economic policies in future years. 
Second, it forces the system to look for deficit reduction measures in other places other than through contractionary economic policy.    The best idea hanging out there right now, one that the CBO says will add 3-5% to GDP and reduce the deficit by almost a trillion dollars over the next 20 years, is the recently introduced House version of the Senate immigration reform bill.   The current landscape may indeed make the passing of a good immigration reform bill more likely now. 

Of course, Congressional Republicans may not see the current landscape this way.   They have been far too prone to ideologically-driven delusions this year.  But if the economy slows now, it will be hard to escape the conclusion that the reckless and highly unpopular pursuits of the GOP these last few weeks got us there.   And adding the prospect of a GOP-induced economic slowdown to the already devastated brand may force a degree of pragmatism into the GOP that would be welcome by all Americans. 

Update - For more on the potential economic impact of the GOP's brinksmanship, see this excellent new analysis by Rob Shapiro. 

A Special Note About the Current Crisis in Washington

In my 20 years in Washington, I’ve seen some remarkable things.   But what is happening this month, right now, feels like it may be the most important battle I’ve participated in since arriving here with the Clintons in early 1993. 

Why? Because the stakes are higher than any other battle I’ve been part of.  The Republican House, after passing a deeply ideological, feckless budget framework, have boycotted budget talks with the Senate for five months now, and failed to pass even a single appropriations bill.  Then, after agreeing to a temporary funding bill at their budgetary levels, they rejected their own agreement, shut the government down and have refused to open it back up despite a clear House majority who want it to re-open. 

First, the House Republicans failed to do their job; then they refused to work with the other chamber; now their tactics are doing grave harm to the United States; and, to make it all that much worse, they are now demanding to be rewarded for this history-making recklessness with a new Constitutional arrangement to give them, the minority, more power in our time tested political system (for more on the GOP’s demands see my recent essay).

So, while we’ve seen this behavior from the modern GOP before – previous shutdowns, a highly political Impeachment, threats of debt ceiling breaches, abuse of the filibuster, new restrictive voting laws, a court appointed President in 2000 – this current crisis is the most serious of all these moments.  The House GOP is creating fiscal, economic and Constitutional crises all at the same time.  And for what exactly?  The answer changes every day.  This behavior is so reckless, so childish, so dangerous, so counter to the American tradition that we cannot treat this moment as just another nasty partisan struggle.  This behavior is of a different order of magnitude in its destructiveness, and ambition. 

I have offered my thoughts in other venues about what has happened to the once proud party of Lincoln and Reagan, and why the crazy virus that has entered its politics has grown more virulent in recent years.  However we got here, it is more important than ever before for those of us who aspire to something better to ensure that groups like NDN/NPI – smart, sensible, forward looking and effective – have the resources needed to its job.  Despite all the gains and successes of recent years - and there have been many – the new recklessness of our opposition requires us to not stand pat, but to raise our game. 

I’m proud of the role this NDN/NPI has played over the past in decade in ushering a new and better politics for the country.   From immigration reform to new economic policies, to a new day in the Middle East to a new understanding of our rapidly changing domestic demography, from the power and potential of a world wired together to fashioning a new national energy policy, from a new approach to Cuba to modern policies towards our Southwest border and Mexico itself, NDN/NPI has been at the cutting edge of our most important debates here in DC.  We’ve ignored the momentary obsessions of an inward looking town, and tried to identify the next debates, the next understandings, the next strategic battles, the next solutions critical to bringing in a better politics for our country.  But am mindful that for us to keep doing our part, and to ensure this new, more reckless brand of conservatism does not win the day, we need your support.  Please consider making a contribution to NDN for any amount -$10, $25, $100- today and help us keep bringing forth quality work.

Sitting in DC today, it is hard to be optimistic.  The conditions that created this ugly October aren’t going away any time soon.  But optimistic I remain.  For I know that together we’ve done a lot of good over many years and helped usher in a new and better political era.  It is just very very clear today that our work isn’t done.  We have a lot more to do.  So let’s get to it, together….


NDN Statement: New House Immigration Reform Bill Brings Us Closer to Deal. También en español.

From Simon Rosenberg, President, NDN - 

“The introduction of this thoughtful new House immigration reform bill brings us one step closer to getting a bill signed into law in the coming months.  The bill is a good one, incorporating the best of what the Senate passed, and constructive ideas from House Republicans.  That the Democrats could have introduced a bill with so many ideas from the other side, at this tense and difficult moment, is itself a sign of the momentum immigration reform has in Congress right now.  We are closer to a deal than at any point since Senators McCain and Kennedy began this process in 2005, and I am optimistic Congress will finish the job in the coming months.“ 

“La introducción de este nuevo y bien pensado proyecto de ley de inmigración nos lleva un paso más cerca a una inminente confirmación de que se convierta en la nueva ley de reforma migratoria en los próximos meses. Es una buena propuesta de ley, ya que incorpora lo mejor de lo que se aprobó en el Senado, junto con ideas constructivas de republicanos en la Cámara Baja. El hecho de que los demócratas hayan podido presentar un proyecto de ley con muchas ideas del otro bando, justo en estos tiempos difíciles, es ya de hecho una señal del buen impulso que lleva la ley de reforma migratoria en el congreso en estos momentos. Estamos más cerca a un trato de lo que estábamos cuando los senadores McCain y Kennedy comenzaron este proceso en el 2005 y me mantengo optimista de que el congreso va a terminar su trabajo en los próximos meses.” 

For more of our take on the bill, see Emma Buckhout's piece, "President, Senate, House Dems Moved Forward on Immgration Reform: #TimeIsNow for House GOP."

Be sure to see my recent op-ed arguing the two parties are much closer to a deal on immigration reform than many realize.  Also see our discussion two weeks ago with immigration reform experts Frank Sharry and Tamar Jacoby with insight into the current state of play.

Partial text of the bill is available here.

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