Senator: Immigration bill opposition can help GOP
By Taylor Higgins . CREATED Jul 14, 2013
MOBILE, Ala. (AP) - Bucking the conventional wisdom that Republicans need some kind of immigration reform to attract more Latino voters, U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama says opposition to the Senate's plan can help the GOP among working-class voters who have trended Democratic in recent presidential elections.
Sessions, among the most vocal Republican opponents of the immigration bill that the Senate adopted last month, headlined the Young Republicans National Convention in Mobile.
Essentially, the senator said, Republicans should hammer the idea that an influx of new labor will drive down wages among American workers. "The Republican Platform should include a line that says we will promote an immigration policy that serves and honors the American worker and the American taxpayers," he said. "We need to be firm about that, not apologetic."
The senator's remarks are a contrast - at least in tone - to what his fellow keynote speaker, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, has emphasized for months. Priebus has made the case that GOP leaders should use the immigration issue to connect better in Latino communities, though he has avoided endorsing any particular policy.
Sessions cited a June report from the Congressional Budget Office that projected just that result in the early years of the immigration changes contained in a bill that the Democratic-controlled Senate passed last month. The bill is pending in the House, though many members of the Republican-led House say the proposal is too weak on border security and too lax on its treatment of an estimated 11 million residents who came here illegally.
Sessions told several hundred attendees that political analysts have mistakenly focused on President Barack Obama's margin among Latino voters - he won more than 70 percent of the vote - in explaining Mitt Romney's defeat in November.
More significant, Sessions said, were Obama's margins among working-class Americans. Citing exit polls, Sessions said Obama defeated Romney by 28 percentage points among voters who earn less than $30,000 annually. The margin was 15 points in the president's favor among workers earning $30,000 to $50,000. He also cited Obama's wide advantage on the question of which candidate "cares about people like me."
Republicans, Sessions said, have been bullied by political analysts, the media and even some GOP strategists - he named President George W. Bush's top adviser Karl Rove - to embrace an immigration overhaul as an easy solution to reach more non-white voters.
"No political party can have as its goal lower wages for its country," he insisted.
The CBO report declared that an influx of workers would result in "temporary imbalances in the skills and occupations demanded and supplied in the labor market." That would be among several factors, CBO said, that would "cause the unemployment rate to be slightly higher for several years than projected under current law."
Sessions did not explain that the CBO concluded that from 2025 and beyond, average wages would exceed what they would be under current law. The CBO report also details different effects on varying swaths of the labor market, with the wage effect depending on skill level.
A June CBO document states: "Average wages would be slightly lower than under current law through 2024, primarily because the amount of capital available to workers would not increase as rapidly as the number of workers and because the new workers would be less skilled and have lower wages, on average, than the labor force under current law. However, the rate of return on capital would be higher under the legislation than under current law throughout the next two decades."
A second CBO analysis on the budget effects of the Senate bill projected a net reduction in deficit spending as newly legal workers and their employees pay more payroll and income taxes. Democrats have used that CBO report in their public statements on the bill.
Sessions was decidedly more strident in his remarks than Priebus.
Priebus, a Wisconsin native, is in the middle of a push to hire party employees in every state to focus on reaching non-white and younger voters who have favored Democrats in the last two decades, as Republicans have lost the popular vote in five out of six presidential elections.
Priebus did not explicitly mention the immigration bill, but he said Republicans must "show up in the Asian community, the Hispanic community, the African-American community."
"You can't show up six months before an election," he said. "We have to be a year-round party."
He added, "You also have to have candidates that people relate to. You have to have people on the ballot that people like, that people understand. In Wisconsin, we call it the beer test."
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