To win votes, the GOP should focus on jobs, not immigration

By Reihan Salam
January 31, 2014

One of the most curious political developments in recent memory is House Speaker John Boehner’s decision to press for a new Republican immigration bill before addressing America’s bona fide jobs crisis. Immigration reform is important. Many conservatives are convinced that unless the GOP deals with the challenges facing unauthorized immigrants who have been living and working in the country for years, it will never build trust with voters with strong ties to immigrant communities. This is no small thing in a country in which 13 percent of the population is foreign-born and another 11 percent of the population has at least one foreign-born parent.

But it’s not at all clear that passing an immigration bill will suddenly lead immigrant voters and their children to flock to the GOP, not least because it is all but guaranteed that Democrats will attack the GOP for not going far enough. If Republicans offer unauthorized immigrants legal status without citizenship, Democrats will accuse them of creating millions of second-class non-citizens. And if, as seems likely, Boehner’s immigration push will lead to a substantial increase in less-skilled immigration, it will divide the right, and for good reason.

If Republicans want to build trust with voters — foreign-born and otherwise — they ought to instead pass a serious jobs bill. In his State of the Union address, President Obama made it clear that he will use raising the federal minimum wage as a wedge issue to put GOP lawmakers on the back foot, and there is at least some reason to believe that he will succeed. A Gallup survey from late last year found that 58 percent of Republicans favored a substantial minimum wage hike, a fact that has greatly complicated conservative efforts to beat back a policy they fear will dampen future job growth. The perfect populist issue has fallen into the president’s lap, and a GOP immigration reform push will do nothing to dull its effectiveness.

The president and his allies are also stepping up the pressure on extending long-term unemployment benefits. House Republicans insist that they are open to the idea of an extension if the extension is paid for through future budget cuts. That nuance has been lost as Democrats campaign on GOP indifference to the fate of jobless Americans. The irony is not lost on conservatives who believe, and are right to believe, that the Obama administration is at least partly responsible for the plight of the long-term unemployed.

The overall number of unemployed workers in the U.S. is 10.4 million. Though some share of this unemployment is frictional — the inevitable to-ing and fro-ing of workers that you’ll see in even the healthiest economic environment — much of it is not. Across the country, there are 3.8 million Americans who have been unemployed for 27 weeks or longer. Though this number has declined since December of last year, when it was 4.7 million, it remains scandalously high. And the ravages of long-term unemployment ripple out beyond the 3.8 million or so who are directly impacted, to their extended families and even their neighbors. Democrats are increasingly turning to legalistic maneuvers to address this problem. Apart from extending long-term unemployment benefits, the Obama administration wants to ban firms from discriminating against the long-term unemployed, a policy that threatens to generate more lawsuits than job growth. Yet Democrats have benefited from the fact that the GOP has failed to unite around a jobs agenda of its own.

That seems to be changing. Patrick Brennan of National Review reports that South Dakota Sen. John Thune is rallying support for a package of proposals designed to reduce long-term unemployment. Among other things, Thune’s proposal would create strong incentives for employers to hire the long-term unemployed (by, for example, exempting them from having to pay the employer side of payroll taxes for these workers for six months) and offer relocation loans to unemployed workers looking to move from regions with high unemployment to regions with low unemployment. This would give workers in Rhode Island, a state plagued by a 9.1 percent unemployment rate, the means to move to North Dakota, where the unemployment rate is 2.6 percent.

And there are many other reforms that could be part of a larger GOP jobs package. Michael R. Strain, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a leading conservative thinker on the jobs crisis, backs a clever approach to fixing unemployment benefits. Rather than oppose an extension of unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed, Strain has called for tying any extension to a larger reform of unemployment insurance that would shift the system from issuing weekly checks to jobless workers to giving them lump-sum payments paid every month. This would create a modest re-employment bonus for workers who find jobs at the beginning of a particular month.

Strain has also called for lowering the minimum wage for long-term unemployed workers for at least the first six months they are on the job, as an incentive for employers to hire them. If the GOP eventually acquiesces to a federal minimum wage increase, as seems well within the realm of possibility, this carve-out would help ensure that the long-term unemployed aren’t locked out of the low end of the labor market. At the same time, he has suggested that these workers be eligible for wage subsidies designed to make work more attractive.

A new Republican jobs bill focused on the long-term unemployed has the potential to unite GOP lawmakers and demonstrate that the party hasn’t forgotten the Americans left behind by our lackluster recovery. It should take precedent over a Republican immigration bill, which would divide conservatives — and strengthen the president’s hand.

PHOTO: U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) (R) hold a news conference with unemployed Americans to highlight their political divide with Republicans over unemployment insurance legislation, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, January 16, 2014. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

4 comments

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They need to stop hating everyone who doesn’t agree with them and stop being cruel for fun and stop pretending like they care about anyone except themselves and a few wealthy masters. Oh, and forget about the fiscal responsibility scam, we’ve caught on to that hoax. Just tell everyone you want to punish everyone for being sinners and take all their money, and then say the democrats did it.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive

I could not imagine a situation where a republican would propose anything but tax cuts and trickle down economics philosophy for helping the unemployed. I suppose some do like to tinker with the tax code and make it even more complex than it needs to be (a way to sneak in tax cuts?)

The reality is trickle down economics has proven to be a failure. Wealth disparity is at an all time high and workers are not getting a productivity gain dividends. For people to be self sufficient, secure, and for a healthy economy, we need to get money in the hands of workers. How to do this would be something like the 1/12th rule (no employee can make less than 1/12 the highest compensated person). Unfortunately congress would never be able to pass something as major as this no matter how necessary it is. And to boot that rule would have to be implemented globally.

Posted by pantathalos | Report as abusive

An Amnesty bill is nothing more than a vote-grab by politicians and it must discontinue now! If amnesty goes through, Democrats will gain control of the House and Senate for decades to come—that is their sole purpose for this push, which includes Republican hierarchy who are desperate for cheap workers. If it happens, illegal aliens will only suck from the federal and state money trough worse than they do now—welfare, food stamps and even Social Security will be impacted. Shamefully, they’re allowed to demonstrate in our streets, demanding amnesty, claiming it’s their civil right—what civil rights—they broke the law, their criminals. It’s only through Congress that it isn’t a felony, proving to me that they don’t care how many foreigners end up here? 10 million Americans still seek work, while another 6 million have just given up and forced to live on paltry unemployment benefits and food stamps. The coal industry has been suffocated by the EPA, with consequences that hundreds of thousands of jobless miners are now walking the streets.

Congress must put an end to this travesty right now. His elected officials have refused to answer ALL the unanswered questions regarding Benghazi, guns to Mexican drug cartels and the IRS snooping into our personal lives. He repeatedly shreds the Rule of Law. Blatantly defies Congress. Aids terrorists and is demanding Congress grant amnesty to people who entered our country illegally. His signature health care legislation is unconstitutional. Millions are losing their insurance plans and their doctors because of it. He’s put all of us at risk with his reckless actions one after the other.

An anonymous Department of Homeland Security official stated, “Right now, entire families — groups — show up at the border and turn themselves in,” said who works along the Arizona border with Mexico. “It’s only getting worse. They bring their children with them and they know they will not be turned back — the majorities are given a free ride into the U.S. This is out of control and passing immigration reform without enforcing current laws will make it worse, not better.”

Another Texas Border officer who was promised anonymity in his commentary,” Human smugglers are using the “promise of immigration reform” among those frantic to immigrate to the U.S. from overseas. Many illegal migrant workers “are trying to find a way into the United States before the amnesty and many with their offspring,” Children become leverage for the parents, because under the “Birthright Citizenship Law” annotated in the 14 Amendment illegal aliens are slipping into America to gain access to food stamps, cash payments, schooling and of course healthcare—and taxpayers are burdened with these costs, which averages into the hundred of billions of dollars. Of course the parents, a pregnant Mother who arrives by plane or crosses the border can claim dollars, prenatal and hospital treatment—all for free. That’s how millions of illegal aliens live, with the many children supplementing their income and no possibility of being deported—especially under the Obama presidential preference.

. Use your voice and jam the switchboard in Washington at (202) 224-3121. Enough is enough. Obama has defied and despoiled the Constitution, bypassed Congress, gone against the laws of this country and the ardent will of the people. The only true Conservatives who will enforce immigration are the “tearing-away” Peoples TEA PARTY dot org. Millions of Americans are cutting their bonds from the Democratic and the GOP elitists, along with all nationalities, blacks, whites, Latino’s, Asian and other minority and religious groups. Many Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, and Independents identify with the premises set forth by the Tea Party Movement, which is striking a chord and ringing true with the American Spirit. The TEA PARTY grassroots mission calls for awareness to any issue which challenges the security, sovereignty, or domestic tranquility of our beloved nation, the United States of America. From our founding, the Tea Party represents the voice of the true owners of the United States: WE THE PEOPLE.

Understand why the voices of the people who are speaking out in unison, relating to the unions being taken over by Marxist’s and the undermining of our great Republic? Read Trevor Loudoun books, about the truth covering Obama’s rise to power, called “Borack Obama and the Enemies Within.” HE STATES IN HIS BOOK, THAT COMMUNISTS HAVE INFILTRATED THE WHITE HOUSE. Then read Frank De Varona’s book “America in Decline. He was in a Cuban prison and as a Christian Latino, who realizes the consequences of millions of more illegal aliens arriving here under Obama or John Boehner who benefit massively from invasion, why citizens and legal residents pay dearly. The President is pushing for amnesty even though the (CBO) Congressional Budget Office has determined it will devastate the wages of working class people.

Posted by now23861221 | Report as abusive

Excellent article. Thanks. I was wondering whatever happened to John Boehner’s ‘Laser-like focus on JOBS’ promise back in 2009-2010.

Posted by SunnyDaySam | Report as abusive