Tuesday, August 29, 2006

On Mike Pence

The New York Times front page profile on my friend, Rep. Mike Pence, “Star of the Right Loses His Base at the Border,” is really all about the anti-immigration, far-right group led by Tom Tancredo of Colorado to oppose any broad-based immigration reform whatsoever—and to label any proposals for temporary workers, or even Pence’s 17 year citizenship path, as “amnesty.”

This word “amnesty” is being used to attack absolutely any conceivable immigration compromise. I could go on forever on this subject. I have written several columns on it. But at the end of the day, the Tancredo crowd, which includes Pat Buchanan, just wants border security to keep out immigrants.

They also want to deport all illegal or undocumented immigrants. “Border security” and “deportation” are their watchwords. They manage to completely ignore the economics of the problem, whereby Mexicans seeking higher paying jobs in the U.S. rather than the faltering Mexican economy can produce are coming here to work. After all, living conditions in the U.S. are a lot better for all but the richest people than they are in Mexico.

If we ever deported the 10-15 million undocumented workers, then the U.S. economy would be severely damaged. New studies show the Mexicans actually help the U.S. economy and wages actually rise overall, (though there are small losses in border town wages). Even unskilled American workers benefit from lower priced goods and services generated by these new Mexican worker-immigrants.

Pat Buchanan attacks me as “worshipping at the church of GDP.” But in a CNBC Kudlow and Company interview, I reminded him that I also worship at the church of Catholic Mass, as do the vast majority of the Mexican immigrants. These faith-based folks would create a new blue-collar middle class that is sorely needed in this country if we let them.

They would also finance Social Security over the next fifty years. Though it should be noted that academic research shows that 2/3rds of them pay Social Security with phony ID cards and will never receive the benefit as matters now stand. And, of course, they pay the sales tax on whatever purchases they make in stores.

The problem will never be solved unless we legally permit roughly 400,000 per year to fill the demand for U.S. jobs that are currently available. This resembles the Bracero Program and it must be part of any solution. It’s just plain common sense that at any given productivity rate, a larger labor force generates more GDP growth to the benefit of the U.S. economy. During the high tide of immigration, over the past twenty years, the U.S. has enjoyed unrivaled prosperity at low unemployment. So, again, I ask, if immigration is so bad, then why are things so good?

Yes, there should be tough border security. Yes, there should be foolproof ID cards, with biometrics, for Social Security and employment purposes. Former Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming, the co-author of the 1986 Simpson-Mazzoli immigration reform bill, has said the failure of that bill was a function of the lack of an ID card system.

But the intransigence of the Tancredo-Buchanan crowd is a remarkable political event which is all out of kilter with poll after poll that shows a substantial majority of respondents favor broad based immigration reform.

If these guys win, the Republican Party loses, and the nation loses. Unlike the big countries of Western Europe and Japan, the U.S. benefits from immigration that keeps our population rising. (In fact, harking back to the Catholic Mass, roughly 45 million unborn children have been killed since the abortion wave was launched by Roe v. Wade in the early 1970’s. We have an opportunity to replace this extraordinary loss of human life with hard headed but compassionate and economically sound immigration reform).

Incidentally, I wrote the article for Human Events when that newspaper awarded Congressman Pence its “2005 Man of the Year” award. I know Mike. The man is a wonderful, Reagan-thinking conservative. His life is governed by religious values, a belief in a strong national defense, and a pro-growth approach to low taxes and less government spending.

This Tancredo-Buchanan backstabbing does this rising GOP star a great disservice. If allowed to go unanswered, it would represent another devastating blow to the Republican Party.

While the Pence-Hutchinson immigration reform idea is not perfect, it does represent a useful discussion point for future action. As diplomatically and kindly as possible, with all the greatest respect for differing points of view, let me just say that the Tancredo-Buchanan attack on Mike Pence is nuttier than a fruitcake.