Lunatic base ensures GOP will never reform immigration!

The good news: The immigration bill may actually pass the Senate. The bad news: The GOP House is way crazier

Published June 20, 2013 12:30PM (EDT)

Sens. Marco Rubio and Rand Paul      (AP/Haraz N. Ghanbari/Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)
Sens. Marco Rubio and Rand Paul (AP/Haraz N. Ghanbari/Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

The folks at the Congressional Budget Office ran the "Gang of Eight's" immigration proposal through its adding machines and look at that: It's estimated to reduce the budget by one of those numbers that sounds big but is essentially trivial over 10 years ($197 billion). The other important finding, in CBO's words, is that “the net annual flow of unauthorized residents would decrease by about 25 percent relative to what would occur under current law.”

For the current coalition of mostly-Democratic-but-some-Republican backers as a whole, this is mixed news: The cost estimate checks out -- better than expected, even -- but the relatively small decrease in future illegal immigration raises some concerns about their claims that this will resolve the border issue conclusively, forever.

But for the Republican backers only, this combination is the best of all news. A total victory! Here we have a score that meets both of their needs. It appears to be acted upon already in the still-mysterious "compromise" Senate negotiators are close to ironing out. The scoring, to Republican backers, shows the need for precisely what they want policy-wise -- stronger border security measures in the amendment process. And since the scoring shows the proposal as written to be a net-saver, that frees up more funds to pay for those relatively costly additional measures. (Just listen to how excited border security hawks get about BEEFING UP security, aka spending money on superfluous "tuff guy stuff." Here's Sen. John Hoeven: "More manpower, more fencing and more technology — drones, helicopters." Alligators, cyborgs, RoboCops, velociraptors, Power Rangers, star destroyers, quadruple-billion-layered fencing with kewl electrico-ninja spiky spikes on top -- now there's money for all of it, and then some.)

To these Republicans -- Sens. Hoeven, Rubio, McCain, Graham, Flake, Corker and ... well, just those guys -- this CBO report allows them to amend the bill in a tough, rightward fashion that will win the hearts of many in their caucus, paving the way for 70-80 aye votes in the chamber next week. Then they'll buzz off to their "homes" to eat chili doughburgers and burn themselves with firecrackers on their yachts for the 4th of July weekend, after which this House GOP conference, inspired, for what would be the first time ever, by the "momentum" coming out of the Senate, would move on the package with a majority of Republicans supporting.

Unless the state of recent politics has metamorphosed into something completely new just for this immigration debate, though, the assumption that underlay this thinking is faulty: that Republicans currently opposed to comprehensive immigration reform can be swayed by the presentation of new evidence. And the early reactions indicate that American politics, indeed, has not changed: a good CBO score makes the bill's backers more confident, but also makes a bill's opponents more determined than ever to kill kill kill it. 

Sen. Ted Cruz, the annoying freshman who leads the opposition to everything, digested the CBO news by going on Rush Limbaugh and the Senate floor to offer his most comically melodramatic argument against CIR yet:

 “No one who cares about our humanity would want to maintain a system where the border isn’t secure,” Cruz said, noting that ”vulnerable women and children” are being preyed upon by drug dealers and are being “left to die in the desert.”

“This is a system that produces human tragedy,” Cruz continued. “And the most heartbreaking aspect of this gang of eight bill is it will perpetuate this tragedy. It will not fix the problem. It will not secure the borders.”

Billions of dollars worth of additional death bots patrolling the border for Illegal Life Forms is still not likely to change this man's opinion. Ted Cruz is not going to be like, "Oh, well now that we've procured an additional $3 billion or whatever for border security measures, I love this bill, and I, my distinguished colleagues, shall vote aye, AYE I declare!" Ted Cruz isn't going to do that! He hates this proposal and will hate any reasonably amended form of it.

But that's just one Ted Cruz. Who else shares his skepticism that this bill is unreformable? Pretty much that whole "base" of Republican voters that Republican politicians are so scared of and vote "no" on everything because of.

The Base. They were on Capitol Hill yesterday, for a sad nostalgia Tea Party revival. They reacted angrily to any mention of the CBO. They booed a reporter asking for specific criticisms of CBO methodology, at a press conference. The CBO score, to them, was just a thick, fresh layer of bullshit atop the pile. Most likely, the CBO report will cause opponents to annoy their senators' staffers with livid phone calls more, demanding they remain resolute in opposing the bill in the face of such pressure. They do not want a comprehensive immigration reform bill.

The last time we heard sizable crowds of people loudly boo at faint allusions to CBO methodology was at these same Tea Party rallies three years ago, during the Obamacare debate. Why wouldn't they do so now? Say what you will of the Tea Party Patriots, but they're consistent in this. They consider the CBO to be a fraudulent conspiracy of liberal innumerates who don't understand that this bill will give each illegal immigration $10 trillion in welfare per year, regardless of what it says. And all of the Senate Republican backers of immigration reform today were saying to them -- feeding to them, in fact -- the same things about the CBO when Obamacare was the big legislative fish. It's a perfectly fair question for conservatives to ask of them, what nerve do you have to wave a CBO top-line number in our faces today and expect us to engage with it?

It's possible that the Senate will still get that 70-80 votes it wants next week, since senators' top priority is passing whatever it is the leaders want passed before they can swoop over to Reagan National and catch a plane for a vacation weekend. Even so, none of that "momentum" would transfer to a House that's more in touch with the every whims of "the base," a body of trigger-happy-primariers that no CBO score or anything else will persuade into supporting Obamnesty or whatever they're gotten around to calling it. The divisions remain wide, and entrenched.

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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