Fallout continues from Republican pandering on immigration

During Saturday’s Republican gubernatorial debate I was struck by how eager all three candidates were to pander on the immigration issue. For example, in response to a question by Iowa Public Radio journalist Jeneane Beck, all the Republicans said they would deny in-state tuition at Iowa universities to the children of illegal immigrants.

That’s easier said than done, since many children of undocumented immigrants were born in the U.S. and are consequently U.S. citizens. For that reason, former Governor Terry Branstad has backpedaled a bit since the debate. Meeting with the Des Moines Register editorial board on Tuesday morning, Branstad “said he would have to consider the constitutionality” of denying in-state tuition to children of illegal immigrants who were born in this country. Later the same day, Branstad’s campaign spokesman Tim Albrecht told the Des Moines Register, “If they are born here, they are legal residents. If they are, they should be afforded every opportunity as every legal resident of the state.”

Branstad’s leading Republican rival, Bob Vander Plaats, talked a good game about the “rule of law” during Saturday’s debate but insists that he would deny children of illegal immigrants in-state tuition, even if they were born here. I expect Vander Plaats supporters to make a big deal out of Branstad’s “flip-flop” on the issue, even though Branstad’s new stance is correct from a legal standpoint. The Register’s Tom Beaumont reported that the third Republican running for governor, Rod Roberts, “stopped short of saying U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants should not qualify” for in-state tuition.

Meanwhile, Vander Plaats remains the only candidate in the Republican field to advocate an Arizona-style crackdown on undocumented immigrants for Iowa. I oppose Arizona’s new law on principle, because it is un-American to give the police power to put you in jail if you’re not immediately able to “show your papers.” Branstad and Roberts have declined to advocate copying Arizona for more pragmatic reasons, such as the cost of implementation. Polk County Sheriff Bill McCarthy put in his two cents on that angle yesterday:

“It’s all well and good to demagogue the issue, but there’s a reality to it,” McCarthy said during the elected official discussion segment of this morning’s Board of Supervisors workshop.

If illegal immigrants awaiting deportation were detained at the Polk County Jail at a cost of $95 per day without adequate support from the federal government, it could cost millions of dollars, McCarthy said. […]

The current jail system will not work if Iowa adopts a law similar to the one in Arizona, McCarthy said later in an interview with The Des Moines Register.

“The bottom line is that we’re dealing with human beings,” he said. “And I know they shouldn’t be here and I know they entered the country illegally. But if they’re here, they’re people and I think we have to deal with them in a humane way, particularly when there are children involved.”

The immigration issue provides a convenient crutch to Republican candidates, but the favored right-wing approach would be extremely costly, not to mention impractical. While we’re on the subject, I’d like to hear third district Congressional candidate Brad Zaun explain how he would “put [all the illegal immigrants in Iowa] on a bus and send them wherever they came from.”

Any thoughts on immigration policy are welcome in this thread. How long do you think Republican candidates will get away with massively exaggerating the amount of money Iowa could save by cutting services to undocumented immigrants?

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Don't believe everything Republicans tell you about spending cuts

Yesterday the Iowa House State Government Committee voted down a Republican plan to cut state spending by $290 million in the coming year. State Representative and gubernatorial candidate Chris Rants offered the plan as an amendment to the government reorganization bill. He said his party was trying to “work in a bipartisan way” and make “tough decisions” to balance the budget for the coming year. All twelve Democrats on the House State Government Committee voted against the GOP amendment, while the nine Republicans voted for it. Later the same day, the committee approved the reorganization bill on a 20-1 vote, with only Rants opposed.

We are sure to hear more from Rants and other Republicans about how big, bad Democrats rejected their good ideas for spending cuts. A closer look reveals funny math in the Republican “plan.”

The biggest line item is “$92.3 million, end all state benefits to adult illegal immigrants.” The Iowa House Republican caucus claims this number comes from the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency. The implication is that the state of Iowa hands out $92.3 million in cash to illegal immigrants.

But that’s not the case. From a report by the Legislative Services Agency on “Undocumented Immigrants’ Cost to the State” (pdf file):

The only government services that illegal immigrants are eligible for are elementary and secondary public education and emergency health care.1 Most citizens do not gain direct benefits from a majority of government spending. Instead, government programs are intended to benefit society as a whole through maintenance of a healthy economy, satisfying public health and safety concerns, providing basic infrastructure, etc. Although undocumented immigrants do not receive most direct benefits, the total benefit of State spending is assumed to accrue to undocumented immigrants at the same rate as legal residents.

The LSA divides total spending from the state general fund by the state’s total population to calculate roughly how much in “benefits” each Iowa resident receives annually. This isn’t a cash payment from the state to residents; it represents each individual’s share of benefit from the state paying for schools, roads, and so on.

Iowa House Republicans arrived at the $92.3 million figure by dividing total general fund expenditures by the number of undocumented immigrants currently estimated to be living in Iowa. They call the remainder “benefits” that illegal immigrants receive. But there’s no magic wand we can wave to make immigrants stop benefiting indirectly from what state government does. The same LSA report noted:

Undocumented immigrants qualify for few services at the State level, and those for which they do qualify are largely mandated by federal law or the Courts. Therefore, decreasing undocumented immigrant eligibility for State spending does not appear to be a viable policy option. Additionally, if the assumption that undocumented immigrants accrue benefits even without receiving direct services is considered valid, attempting to reduce direct State expenditures on undocumented immigrants would have a minimal effect.

By the way, proof of citizenship and identification are already required for Iowans participating in Medicaid and HAWK-I (the children’s health insurance program).

Scoring points against undocumented immigrants may be good for Rants politically, but that won’t help the state of Iowa save $92.3 million in the coming year. That one item represents nearly a third of the Republican-proposed spending cuts.

I’ve posted the full list of cuts after the jump. Some ideas may have merit, but most of them reflect skewed Republican priorities for state government. GOP legislators want to save $45 million by reducing access to pre-school for four-year-olds. They also want to invest less in renewable energy production and energy efficiency measures by eliminating the Power Fund and the Office of Energy Independence, which would $25 million. Many Republicans never liked the core curriculum, so it’s no surprise they’d like to save some money by delaying its implications. The Des Moines Register’s Iowa poll in November indicated that Iowans support higher spending on renewable energy research and development and are divided over whether to cut funds for expanded free pre-school.

Some of the smaller Republican-backed cuts would please conservative interests. The religious right would love to eliminate the family planning waiver. Rants has always been a good friend to tobacco companies, who would love to see the state scrap the “Just Eliminate Lies” anti-smoking campaign. There’s also $4 million saved by cutting “taxpayer-funded lobbyists,” which sounds great until you realize that would leave corporate groups unchallenged as they lobby for bills that might counter the public interest. Anyway, last year taxpayer money for lobbying totaled about $1.8 million, and a lot of that didn’t come from the state general fund. Municipalities, county agencies and associations like the League of Cities hire lobbyists too.

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Grassley votes no as Senate Finance Committee approves health care bill

The Senate Finance Committee approved its health care reform bill on a 14-9 vote yesterday, with all Democrats and Republican Olympia Snowe of Maine voting in favor. Ranking Republican Chuck Grassley, a key member of the committee’s “gang of six” negotiators this summer, joined the rest of the Republicans in voting against the bill. Speaking to the Des Moines Register Grassley “said he has no regrets about working with majority Democrats on the committee, only to oppose the bill. Given more time, he might have struck a deal, he said.”

This guy is the perfect picture of a bad-faith negotiator. From the Register:

Grassley said he objects most to provisions in the bill that would require Americans to obtain health insurance. But Grassley also said the bill does too little to block federal money being spent to provide abortions and provide coverage for illegal immigrants.

“Those aren’t the only things, but I think they are the most controversial or the most difficult to deal with,” Grassley told The Des Moines Register.

As Jason Hancock reported for the Iowa Independent last week, Grassley publicly supported the idea of an individual mandate to purchase health insurance this summer. I agree that requiring individuals to purchase insurance is problematic if there is no broad-based public health insurance option (because then the government is just subsidizing private insurers), but of course Grassley opposed the public option too.

In addition, the “gang of six” made changes in the bill before markup to address groundless Republican claims about illegal immigrants. According to PolitiFact, the “Baucus plan explicitly states that no federal funds – whether through tax credits or cost-sharing credits – could be used to pay for abortions (again, except for rape, incest, or the life of the mother).”

Trying to cut deals with Grassley is a waste of time. For more on that point, check out the skipper’s recent diary.

Speaking of Grassley, Cityview’s Civic Skinny thinks he should be worried about a potential race against attorney Roxanne Conlin. When a reporter asked Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack whether his wife, Christie Vilsack, might run against Grassley, he replied, “You should ask her about that.” (UPDATE: Dave Price did ask her and wonders whether she is the mystery candidate.)

As for the health care bill, the Finance Committee and HELP Committee versions have to be merged before a floor vote. It’s imperative that a public option be included in the version sent to the floor, and HELP Committee representative Chris Dodd says he will fight for that. On the other hand, Snowe and a few Democrats, like Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, might vote against the bill on the floor if it contains a public option. Chris Bowers wrote more at Open Left about the merging process in the House and Senate.

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