Keller and Krugman

Mr. Keller has the answer…  In “Selling Amnesty” he tells us all how to get real immigration reform past a right-wing blockade.  (And his opening assumption is just precious…)  In “Friends of Fraud” Prof. Krugman states the glaringly obvious:  Republicans are fighting to make America safe for financial abuse.  Here’s Keller:

Let’s assume that President Obama and the Democrats sincerely want an immigration bill, that this is not a trick to trap Republicans into an anti-immigrant vote that will alienate Hispanic voters and secure Democratic advantage for a generation.

The Senate seems to be hospitable territory. Four Republicans — including the ascendant Marco Rubio — have joined four Democrats in embracing the politically difficult principles at the heart of the matter. Some advocates of immigration reform talk confidently of mustering 70 Senate votes, which would represent an astonishing reversal of fortunes for an issue that has long been mired in demagogy.

The House, where many Republicans fear getting creamed by Tea Party challengers in a primary next year, is more problematic. The fear is that the House will balk or will break immigration into little pieces, pass the parts that crack down on undocumented workers and kill any effort to legalize the 11 million already here.

That pessimism is natural; the House is the place where ideas go to die. But it needn’t happen this time. If President Obama and Congressional leaders play their cards right, as they are doing so far, immigration reform — real immigration reform — can clear Congress this year.

Selling the measure to the Republican House will require close attention to substance, marketing and legislative tactics.

For starters, advocates won’t be using the word “amnesty.” Personally I think it’s a fine word, which has traditionally meant an act of forgiveness for the sake of social harmony. But in the meanspirited Republican/Fox News lexicon, “amnesty” has come to mean coddling criminals. So we will all talk of “a path to citizenship.”

The last major immigration law, signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1986, legalized three million undocumented immigrants. (Reagan, by the way, was comfortable calling this “amnesty.”) But the law failed to prevent a new illegal influx, largely because business lobbied to prevent tough sanctions on employers who hired unauthorized workers. The lure of no-questions-asked jobs drew millions of new illegal immigrants, and that invasion fed a ferocious popular backlash.

This time around, Democrats should be at least as ardent about enforcement as they are about legalization of the undocumented. That is essential to winning Republican votes, but it is also the way to avoid a future cycle of anti-immigrant populism.

In truth, most of what you hear from Republicans about “securing our borders” is a red herring. That is not the real problem. Under Obama, border policing has doubled, and deportations have ballooned to 400,000 a year — with a new and prudent emphasis on deporting convicted criminals. The Migration Policy Institute reported in January that the government now spends more on immigration enforcement — nearly $18 billion a year — than on the F.B.I., the Secret Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration and all the other federal law enforcement agencies combined. Partly because of stronger enforcement — but also because of lower birthrates and healthier economies south of our border — the net flow of migrants from Mexico is actually zero, or even negative, according to a recent analysis by the Pew Hispanic Center. It should be easy for Obama to endorse strong language on border protection, because he’s already doing it.

The real weakness is internal enforcement. There is an electronic system to verify that businesses hire only workers who are legally entitled to be here, but 90 percent of employers don’t use it. Both Obama and the Senate “Gang of Eight” call for more rigorous checks on employment, including a forgery-proof, theft-proof identification system, which is overdue.

Businesses are not crazy about tougher policing of their payrolls, but they have mostly resigned themselves to the idea. And the immigration bill is certain to include some enticing compensation: for the tech sector, more visas to attract educated specialists; for the agriculture sector, an expanded program of temporary labor, which the Chamber of Commerce is negotiating with the A.F.L.-C.I.O.

As for legalization, much of the debate has raged around the question of how easy it is for the undocumented to get the sweet prize of citizenship. Simply bestowing green cards on the millions seems unfair to those who have played by the rules, and sends a bad signal to others tempted to cheat. The bill now being hatched is likely to create a short path to citizenship for children, who are here through no fault of their own, and a more arduous path for adults. Grown-ups who came here by sneaking across the border or overstaying a temporary visa will have to register, submit to a background check, pay taxes and penalties, and then wait their turn behind those who applied legally.

Some big-hearted folks (and some Democrats hoping to get grateful Hispanics into their voter base) will argue that we should not drag out the naturalization process for 10 years. But the important thing is that the 11 million be allowed to come out of hiding. Under the status Obama calls “provisional” and the Senate gang calls “probationary,” they will be allowed to work, travel and send their kids to school without fear of deportation while they wait to apply for green cards. No federal benefits, no vote, but no sword of Damocles either. Think of it as the path to the path. This compromise is the biggest breakthrough in many years of immigration debate, and it is the key to a consensus.

As Ashley Parker pointed out in The Times, the sponsors of reform have learned important messaging lessons from their failed attempts in 2006 and 2007. They are building a consensus on principles before getting bogged down in legislative details. They are using more conciliatory language. They have brought business and labor together to work out compromises on issues like temporary workers. They have kept a hard focus on enforcement.

The good news is that the anti-immigration side has no lobbying equivalent of the National Rifle Association, no group with its hands so firmly on the throats of Congress that it can override public opinion. But the bill will face a reservoir of popular fear, resentment and misunderstanding. President Obama and the indefatigable Senator Charles Schumer will work the Democratic constituencies and rally public support, but the hard sell is up to a few key Republicans who understand that this is their party’s best hope of redemption with the surging Latino electorate.

So far the most effective antidote to right-wing opposition has been Senator Rubio. In the days after the Gang of Eight unveiled its proposal the Floridian made the rounds of the shouting heads on the conservative media circuit, arguing the case. By the time Rubio was done, Rush Limbaugh was unconvinced but muted, and Sean Hannity, who announced after the November election that he had “evolved” on the issue, was calling it “the most thoughtful proposal that I’ve heard.” Karl Rove, another Fox talker, who tried unsuccessfully to sell immigration reform when he was President George W. Bush’s right arm, called the Senate principles “a huge step forward.” Fox pundits, perhaps mindful that their owner, Rupert Murdoch, recently came out for a path to citizenship, have avoided using the A-word to describe the latest proposals.

Rubio could bolster the case for legalizing undocumented immigrants by making more of the economics. My conservative colleague David Brooks has spelled out the rosiest economic case for increased immigration, including legalization of the undocumented. I would add a point made by Gordon Hanson, who studies immigration economics at the University of California, San Diego. Hanson points out that giving the 11 million undocumented immigrants provisional legal status would greatly improve the odds that their children would become educated, productive, taxpaying members of society rather than drains on the economy.

Supporters of reform are moving with unusual speed, hoping to build up momentum that will carry over to the House. They aim to get a bill through the Senate this summer, leaving much of 2013 for the House to act before representatives are completely immersed in midterm electoral politics.

The most important tactical decision, though, is in the hands of Speaker John Boehner. One reason the House is such a tar pit is that Boehner refuses to bring controversial bills to a vote unless he first has the approval of his Republican caucus — a majority of the majority. In the recent fiscal showdown, Boehner lowered that barricade and let the bill pass with just a minority of his own party joining in. He has every reason to do it again on immigration. Boehner has read the election results — a two-to-one Latino vote for Obama — and he knows that if the House Republicans smother this effort, they will pay a high price.

I’m pretty sure that is not Obama’s intent. But it is his best leverage.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Like many advocates of financial reform, I was a bit disappointed in the bill that finally emerged. Dodd-Frank gave regulators the power to rein in many financial excesses; but it was and is less clear that future regulators will use that power. As history shows, the financial industry’s wealth and influence can all too easily turn those who are supposed to serve as watchdogs into lap dogs instead.

There was, however, one piece of the reform that was a shining example of how to do it right: the creation of a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a stand-alone agency with its own funding, charged with protecting consumers against financial fraud and abuse. And sure enough, Senate Republicans are going all out in an attempt to kill that bureau.

Why is consumer financial protection necessary? Because fraud and abuse happen.

Don’t say that educated and informed consumers can take care of themselves. For one thing, not all consumers are educated and informed. Edward Gramlich, the Federal Reserve official who warned in vain about the dangers of subprime, famously asked, “Why are the most risky loan products sold to the least sophisticated borrowers?” He went on, “The question answers itself — the least sophisticated borrowers are probably duped into taking these products.”

And even well-educated adults can have a hard time understanding the risks and payoffs associated with financial deals — a fact of which shady operators are all too aware. To take an area in which the bureau has already done excellent work, how many of us know what’s actually in our credit-card contracts?

Now, you might be tempted to say that while we need protection against financial fraud, there’s no need to create another bureaucracy. Why not leave it up to the regulators we already have? The answer is that existing regulatory agencies are basically concerned with bolstering the banks; as a practical, cultural matter they will always put consumer protection on the back burner — just as they did when they ignored Mr. Gramlich’s warnings about subprime.

So the consumer protection bureau serves a vital function. But as I said, Senate Republicans are trying to kill it.

How can they do that, when the reform is already law and Democrats hold a Senate majority? Here as elsewhere, they’re turning to extortion — threatening to filibuster the appointment of Richard Cordray, the bureau’s acting head, and thereby leave the bureau unable to function. Mr. Cordray, whose work has drawn praise even from the bankers, is clearly not the issue. Instead, it’s an open attempt to use raw obstructionism to overturn the law.

What Republicans are demanding, basically, is that the protection bureau lose its independence. They want its actions subjected to a veto by other, bank-centered financial regulators, ensuring that consumers will once again be neglected, and they also want to take away its guaranteed funding, opening it to interest-group pressure. These changes would make the agency more or less worthless — but that, of course, is the point.

How can the G.O.P. be so determined to make America safe for financial fraud, with the 2008 crisis still so fresh in our memory? In part it’s because Republicans are deep in denial about what actually happened to our financial system and economy. On the right, it’s now complete orthodoxy that do-gooder liberals, especially former Representative Barney Frank, somehow caused the financial disaster by forcing helpless bankers to lend to Those People.

In reality, this is a nonsense story that has been extensively refuted; I’ve always been struck in particular by the notion that a Congressional Democrat, holding office at a time when Republicans ruled the House with an iron first, somehow had the mystical power to distort our whole banking system. But it’s a story conservatives much prefer to the awkward reality that their faith in the perfection of free markets was proved false.

And as always, you should follow the money. Historically, the financial sector has given a lot of money to both parties, with only a modest Republican lean. In the last election, however, it went all in for Republicans, giving them more than twice as much as it gave to Democrats (and favoring Mitt Romney over the president almost three to one). All this money wasn’t enough to buy an election — but it was, arguably, enough to buy a major political party.

Right now, all the media focus is on the obvious hot issues — immigration, guns, the sequester, and so on. But let’s try not to let this one fall through the cracks: just four years after runaway bankers brought the world economy to its knees, Senate Republicans are using every means at their disposal, violating all the usual norms of politics in the process, in an attempt to give the bankers a chance to do it all over again.


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