Rubio calls for debate on amnesty and guest-worker bill

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio today endorsed requests by his fellow GOP senators for hearings on the pending amnesty and guest-worker bill, but did not promise to delay votes on the bill until the public understands what is in it.

“If the [Democratic] majority does not follow regular order [by holding some hearings and votes], you can expect that I will continue to defend the rights of every senator, myself included, to conduct this process in an open and detailed manner,” Rubio said in an April 5 letter to four GOP senators.

However, Rubio is just one of the eight senators writing the bill, and he did not promise to slow or halt the bill-writing process if his Democratic and Republican allies try to minimize the GOP’s ability to study, publicize and modify the still-secret bill.

Rubio’s letter was sent to senior GOP senators Jeff Sessions and Chuck Grassley, as well as Senate newcomers Ted Cruz and Mike Lee. The Florida Republican is writing the bill in cooperation with four Democrats, plus Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham, John McCain and Jeff Flake.

In a statement to The Daily Caller, Rubio’s spokesman said the senator is asking Democrats to schedule “several hearings in multiple committees.”

“We plan to ask others to study the costs & benefits past 10 years, with the recognition that legal immigration has historically been critical to our economic growth and young demographics,” Rubio spokesman Alex Conant told TheDC.

The controversial bill is a political minefield for Rubio.

It has won him short-term applause from Democrats and the their allies in the media, but may cost him critical support among the GOP base if he tries to win the GOP’s presidential nomination in 2016.

In an election, Rubio could also lose support among disenchanted, GOP-leaning voters if the amnesty and guest-worker bill damages the job opportunities and wages of Americans.

Polls by advocates for and against large-scale immigration show that most Americans and GOP voters strongly oppose an amnesty bill that doesn’t curb future illegal immigrants, and that they also worry about the economic impact of low-wage immigrants.

Rubio’s letter came in response to requests by Sessions and Grassley to the senators writing the bill. Their requests also went to Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Democratic chairman of the Senate judiciary committee.

“As members of the judiciary committee, we believe it is critical that the public and the entire Senate body be given adequate time to read and analyze the contents of any immigration bill,” Grassley and three of his Republican colleagues wrote in an April 4 letter to the four GOP senators helping to write the immigration bill. (RELATED: Republicans call for immigration transparency)

In response, Leahy has said he may schedule a single hearing.

Rubio’s April 5 response sought to reassure Grassley and his allies, but offered no guarantees.

“I have been clear in stressing, both in the bipartisan [immigration] group and publicly, that the most important part of the process is what comes after the legislation is introduced,” Rubio wrote.

Next week, he said, he would brief fellow GOP senators about the contents of the immigration bill.

“I continue to welcome, value and encourage any input you may have,” said Rubio, who was elected in 2010.

The amnesty and guest-worker bill is being pushed by an alliance of business lobbyists, including Americans for Tax Reform head Grover Norquist; ethnic lobbies like La Raza; and various progressives, including New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, President Barack Obama and New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg.

The complex bill could impose huge economic costs on Americans, and provide citizenship to millions of new low-income, Democratic-leaning immigrants, while delivering far smaller benefits for Americans.

For example, multiple news leaks say the pending bill could import more than 1 million low-wage foreign workers each year, for seasonal, 1-year or permanent work permits. That huge number would deliver one new foreign worker for every four Americans entering the workforce, during a time when 20 million Americans are unemployed or underemployed, and are dependent on government welfare. (RELATED: Immigration bill would import 1 million workers per year)

The pending bill could also spike welfare costs, because many of the 11 million illegal immigrants who would get a conditional amnesty are unskilled, and likely to receive far more in welfare benefits than they pay in taxes. A 2007 cost estimate said retirement costs for 11 million amnestied illegal immigrants would cost $2.6 trillion.

The subsequent passage of additional welfare programs, including Obamacare, will likely boost future spending, even as the government’s debt climbs past $16.7 trillion this year. (RELATED: Immigration advocates slam cost estimate)

In his letter to Grassley and Spector, Rubio downplayed the possible welfare costs, and suggested that the pending bill would exclude some immigrants from Obamacare.

In recent days, Rubio’s aides have discounted public and GOP concerns about the impact of the bill.

“We share concerns about potential fiscal impact of changes to our immigration system, which is why we will ask for an in-depth [cost] analysis” from the Congressional Budget Office, Conant tweeted April 4.

However, the CBO’s forecasts only extend for 10 years, and will ignore the vast majority of costs that begin only when immigrants get citizenship papers after a decade.

Similarly, an April 5 statement from Conant dismissed worries that the bill would provide benefits to illegal immigrants without guaranteeing any increase in security at the borders or at airports.

Rubio’s bill would reportedly provide residency and work permits to at least 11 million illegal immigrants, prior to any boost in border and airport security.

The award of green cards and then citizenship would be held back until still-secret requirements are met, Conant said.

“In our negotiations, the Senate Democrats have agreed to real triggers that will last longer than Obama’s presidency and no undocumented immigrant who remains in the country will ever be allowed to apply for green card unless tough security triggers are met,” he said in a statement to National Review.

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