A Tale of Two Legislators: Watching Marco Rubio Work To Improve and Save Immigration Reform; Watching Dave Camp Torpedo Real Tax Relief

Hugh Hewitt

4/25/2013 10:06:00 AM - Hugh Hewitt

If you have read Marco Rubio's An American Son, you know that the Florida senator is nothing if not tenacious. Trying to play college football at his size and the willingness to go to Tarkio College in Missouri to give it a shot are two small bits of the mountain of evidence on his tenaciousness.

Rubio is also a very experienced legislator -- a decade of success in the Florida House taught him many things, one of which is the need to adapt to the changing circumstances if you really want to pass a bill. Again, read his book. He knows how to get a law passed, and it isn't by refusing to listen to serious opposition that is willing to work towards legislated compromise.

Rubio is displaying both tenaciousness and the capacity to adapt in real time as the immigration reform bill encounters growing resistance. The senator seems to understand that opposition is going to reach a critical point soon that will leave the bill dead in the water in the Senate without ever getting to the House -- just like the gun legislation which had some bipartisan support but not enough to overcome the very wise rules of the Senate on matters of sweeping laws that are hundreds of pages in length.

Here's part of the account from The Hill earlier today:

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a member of the Senate’s Gang of Eight, which drafted the bill, said he’s open to reducing Napolitano’s authority to waive provisions of the bill.

“Some criticisms may be valid, and if they are, they should be addressed through the amendment process,” he said. “If people feel that way, I certainly welcome the opportunity to fix it and make the bill better.

“I view the bill as a starting point,” he said.

The major problem with the bill is Title I, which concerns border security. The problems can be summarized quickly: People don't trust the Department of Homeland Security to do the jobs assigned it in the bill, and the "mechanisms" and "triggers" designed to force DHS to secure the border are Rube Goldberg contraptions that evoke laughter and dismay, not serious consideration. The public will never trust the DHS to do these jobs.

The senator needs to give up defending the "commission of governors" and the "six-months-from-now-plan-from-DHS" and draft and support amendments that will lead to real border security, mostly in the form of a mandated design and construction (including legal authority, appropriations and schedule) of border fencing in a large amount, at least half of the 2,000 mile southern border.

Such mandates are easily understood and supported. They would attract the support of national security conservatives whereas the porousness of the current Title I is repelling those allies. Other mandated improvements on such things as the use of biometrics on entry and exit are even more obviously needed now that we learn the details of the Boston bomber's comings-and-goings and the diabolical plot to misspelled his name and thus avoid the DHS' net, but neither are these steps difficult to conceive and write into amendments. Summon some critics, convene a drafting session, and produce some amendments which the Gang of 8 also agrees to.

Two other obvious needs are both rooted in the need for obviousness, as well as the public's particular hatred of bureaucratic jargon which is rightly understood as conceit disguised as expertise.

First, state the border in terms of miles and refer to specific sets of miles, not multiple varieties of "nine sectors," which no voter can reasonably be expected to visualize and keep straight in their heads. There are 2,000 miles of border, so number them from Pacific to Gulf and refer to the numbers --miles 1 through 300," miles 1200 to 1300" etc. This gets rid of the terribly destructive reliance on jargon sets such as "nine sectors" which bureaucrats routinely use to cloak the substance of a debate from an interested public. Make the hearings, debates and especially the conversations about the bill easy to understand because, after Obamacare, jargon and bureaucratic claims of competence and superior knowledge are deadly to legislative success.

Second, I think the legislation's "path to citizenship" is close to acceptable if I understand it correctly, but I might not, and the lack of my ability to do so is indicative of the bigger problem.

I'd like to be able to say to my radio audience that the earliest -- the absolute very earliest -- a regularized immigrant will be eligible to vote is 16 years after the law as written was to pass, and I'd like to be able to say that "chain immigration" for extended families is effectively ended by the bill. I think both statements are true or close to true, but I cannot say either thing with great confidence. The law needs to spell those two topics out in black-and-white, impossible-to-miss language so that people like me, in the communicating business, can quickly and simply cite a section and read a sentence that renders the answer. If that function --reference, read and conclude-- is not possible on these two subjects and on the border fence, the bill is dead.

And it should be, because in its present form, the bill does not improve border security. Indeed, it may make border security worse than it already is by creating an illusion of activity leading towards security where none actually exists.

If, however, the fence is actually going to be mandated by the bill, voting citizenship delayed for something very close to the 18 years it requires a person born in the United States to achieve voting age and the problem of chain migration is fixed, the bill will advance to the House and probably into law. I hope it does. I hope Senator Rubio leads it there.

I don't have any hope for the unicorn tax reform being pushed in the House by Ways and Means Committee Chair Dave Camp.

I have been asked why I have such a dislike for Congressman Camp. I don't have any dislike of him. I have never met him in fact, and that makes it hard to dislike him. Now, I don't like the fact that he (or his staff) has repeatedly turned down requests to come on the radio show dating back to late 2010, and the refusal to engage with me or folks like me raises my suspicions about his agenda, but not about his character. Lots of wonderful people don't want to debate their agendas on the radio, but I'm sure he's a wonderful family guy and he got his law degree from the University of San Diego which is a good law school, so he's got some smarts.

But as I discussed with National Review's Robert Costa on my radio show yesterday (transcript here), Chairman Camp is eating up the House GOP's time and energy in a doomed-to-fail exercise in windmill-tilting that will cripple the GOP's agenda of real tax relief, especially the repeal of the onerous Medical Device Tax. I explained all of this yesterday in a Townhall.com column and refer you to it, but want to add one more point to what Costa and I discussed yesterday and what I wrote yesterday.

Hank Adler, my co-author on the book The Fair Tax Fantasy, a retired senior tax accountant from Deloitte and now a professor of accounting at Chapman University, wrote me a terse reminder last night. "Only 10% of Americans find the tax code complicated," Hank emailed, and he went on to detail some of the inanities that do need fixing, but not on the premise that ending the deductions the middle class loves is driving the electorate towards tax reform. The charitable deduction is Hank's primary concern, which I share along with a desire to save the home mortgage deduction and the state income tax deduction. Hank's 10% reminder is a rooted in the reality that for the vast number of voters, tax reform is no longer the issue it was in 1986 or even 2001. Presidents Reagan and Bush fixed the tax code for most Americans by getting it off their backs and a majority of them off the rolls of taxpayers completely. Tax relief remains a big deal on a constituency-by-constituency basis, but there isn't a political case to be made for wagering a lot of the House GOP majority's time and energy on a doomed-from-the-start legacy hunt.

Summary: The GOP should be trying to save immigration reform from its first draft, and kill off the crazy push for comprehensive tax reform in its crib. Senator Rubio is the key to the first task, and Congressman Camp is blocking the second.