With only a “working draft” on hand, the Democrat Leadership opened debate Monday on the new immigration bill – a bill no one has seen a final version of.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R.-Ala.) said, “It’s unthinkable we would pass this bill in one week. It’s not in bill language and we’ve had very little opportunity to study it. I think there will be every resistance to any plan to complete this bill this week.”
Over the weekend senators only had access to a draft of the bill for “discussion purposes only” which in small print ran over 300 pages. Once the working draft is put into proper legislative form, it’s expected to be anywhere from 800 to 1,000 pages long.
Because of the hurried way the immigration bill is being rushed through the Senate, no fiscal analysis has been completed to find out how much it will cost taxpayers. Closed-door negotiations over the bill took much longer than expected and in order to move forward without the final bill on hand. To buy time, Reid reintroduced last year’s abandoned immigration bill as a “placeholder” for the new bill last week. When it is ready, the new bill will be introduced as a “substitute amendment” to the “placeholder” immigration bill.
Because the new bill was not introduced as stand-alone legislation, it did not go through routine committee markup, fiscal analysis or congressional hearings. When he opened up the Senate floor Monday for debate on the bill, Reid said he had some “reservations” with the bill, but was ready to move forward on it. “Everyone agrees this bill is imperfect,” he said, “But what we have is a starting point.”
One of the most controversial points of the bill is the plan to issue illegal immigrants “z visas” that would give them legal working status. The “z visa” would be endlessly renewed as long as its holder paid the associated fines and passed criminal background checks. Critics say the hidden costs associated with giving low-skilled workers “z visas” would cost taxpayers trillions. For this reason Robert Rector, a Heritage Foundation senior research fellow, said “this is the most expensive bill the U.S. taxpayer has ever seen.”
In March 2006, nearly 9.3 million adult illegal immigrants were living inside the United States. Most of them did not have a high school education, or were “low-skilled.” On average in fiscal year 2004, each low-skilled immigrant household consumed $30,160 in government benefits and services, but only paid on average $10,573 in taxes each.
“They never contribute more than they take out and at retirement they become very costly,” Rector said in Capitol Hill press conference on Monday with Sessions, Sen. Jim Bunning (R.-Ky.) and Rep. Bill Bilbray (R.-Calif.).
Rector explained, “Every person that gets the Z visa, and that would be about 12 million people, 9 million of which are adults--is immediately eligible for Social Security. They start to contribute to that system. They start to earn eligibility for Medicare. The White House has claimed they don’t get welfare benefits. That is absolutely untrue. For the first 10 years or so they are in the country, the adults would not get welfare benefits, but the children would. They are going to be here for fifty years. For the first 10 years they don’t get means tested welfare, but for the next forty they are going to be eligible for every single type of means tested welfare.”
Rector said it would cost the government $2.4 trillion to pay out these benefits to z visa holders. He characterized the bill as an “amnesty bill with a blank check on the U.S. taxpayer.” Entitlement programs, like Social Security and Medicare programs, are already on pace to go bankrupt due to the exploding costs of retiring baby-boomers. Rector said adding the additional retirement costs of a low-skilled population to these programs would be a “financial catastrophe.”
Bunning, who opposes the bill, suggested it could be temporarily delayed by asking the Senate Reading Clerk to read the bill text into congressional record. “If someone says to the Reading Clerk that ‘I object to the bill and you have to read it word for word’ then it won’t come tonight will it? That’s a possibility that could occur.” Bunning would not say he would make this request. He speculated that regardless of such a move the cloture vote would come sometime before Wednesday.
“Unless the White House and the leadership of the Senate agree, we will be here past the end of the week and we will not get a vote before Memorial Day,” he said. “If they decide to stonewall it and just get a bill to conference committee, then I say this bill would be passed by the end of the week.”
Monday evening, the Senate voted 69-23 to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed on the immigration bill. After passage, Leader Reid and Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R.-KY.) pledged that the Senate would spend two weeks debating and amending the bill.