The Congressional Budget Office has underscored two key points with its rosy assessment of the Senate immigration bill. The first is that bringing the 11 million undocumented immigrants already here into lawful society would pay immediate economic benefits. Over the coming two decades, the CBO estimates, the legislation could shave nearly $1 trillion off the federal deficit. The second is that the labor pool and innovation that this workforce provides would strengthen the nation's finances and its ability to compete globally. These strong economic arguments come at a critical time as Republicans who oppose balanced, meaningful reform look for any excuse to block the Senate's bipartisan effort.
The long-awaited report by the nonpartisan budget office makes clear the Senate's immigration reform more than pays for itself. The CBO estimates the bill would cut the federal deficit by $175 billion over the next decade by moving millions of illegal immigrants into the lawful workforce and subjecting them to payroll and income taxes. Those savings would come after paying for the $22 billion in security-related improvements that the Senate bill calls for along the border. And the benefits are even better over the longer term. Between 2024 and 2033, the CBO found, the bill would cut the deficit an additional $700 billion — and, as importantly, bring much-needed young workers into the nation's aging labor market.
The CBO assessment counters the picture that congressional opponents of reform like to paint of illegal immigrants being granted amnesty to mooch off the system. The report debunks the claim that creating a path to legal residency would give rise to a new welfare state (most illegal immigrants would not be eligible for means-tested federal benefits, such as those under the new Affordable Care Act). And over the next 20 years, the expanded workforce created by the Senate legislation would boost productivity, capital and wages, increasing the nation's economic output by 5 percent in 2033 and leading highly skilled immigrants to invent and market new technologies.
The budget picture provides fresh material for reform supporters to counter those in Congress who are twisting facts and hyping fears to try to kill any balanced legislation. The Senate should continue fighting the effort by Republican opponents to tie legalization to unworkable and extravagant border security demands that are poison pills designed to kill any political compromise. After the Senate acts, House Speaker John Boehner owes it to the public to bring a House version of immigration reform to a vote; his insistence Tuesday that any measure must be supported by the majority of House Republicans to even reach the floor shows the lengths conservatives are going to avoid a fair debate on a matter of great national importance.
The CBO report is an encouraging assessment of the impact of reasonable immigration reform. The Senate should continue to work on its bipartisan legislation, and the House should prepare to give it a fair hearing and not be held hostage by those who continue to play to the most extreme views in either political party.