Rep. Xavier Becerra has a plan for dealing with two thorny political problems at once this fall: bring down the national deficit by passing an immigration overhaul.
It’s an idea the House Democratic Caucus chairman has been pushing for years with little success, first during the Simpson-Bowles fiscal commission and then in his capacity as a member of the doomed supercommittee on deficit reduction.
“At that point, I think people were still just focused on the budget, the regular tools for fashioning a budget,” Becerra said in a recent interview with CQ Roll Call. “The idea didn’t go very far. I raised it again, and again it didn’t go very far, probably because we weren’t having a very expanded discussion about immigration reform and a lot of people didn’t know what it would mean to have an immigration bill and how it would fit in terms of the economy.”
But things are different now, Becerra continued. There is increasing urgency to avert a government shutdown or debt limit showdown with an aim to also curb spending, and the momentum for an immigration rewrite has grown following the 2012 elections.
“Each issue is looking for some locomotion, and I certainly think any time you can add a trillion dollars of deficit reduction to fiscal negotiations, that’s pretty big,” Becerra said. “And any time you can also give a jump-start to the reluctance of some on the Republican side to move on fixing the economy at the same time, I think that’s gotta help.”
He also has another tool in his belt: an analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and Joint Committee on Taxation showing that the Senate-passed immigration overhaul bill would reduce the deficit by $158 billion over the next decade.
“You don’t have to rely on my word or listen to me,” Becerra said. “Look at the nonpartisan fiscal referee for Congress.”
Becerra didn’t pretend it will be an easy sell. House Republican leaders have vowed not to take up the Senate’s comprehensive immigration bill, instead opting for a piecemeal approach that will almost certainly involve exhaustive Judiciary Committee markups and amendment debates on the floor.
And immigration legislation has largely stalled while Congress deals with Syria and other budget matters, making it doubtful that an immigration agreement could be reached in time for inclusion in a stopgap spending bill that must be passed by Sept. 30 or a debt ceiling increase that needs to move by Oct. 15.
In the meantime, Becerra plans to continue probing the subject with his colleagues in Democratic leadership and the rank and file, and he will probably mention it to fellow House members on the Republican side of the aisle when Congress officially returns from recess next week.
“Do I have a grand plan? No, because I have to plant the seed,” Becerra said. “Right now, I have a real seed that has proven to germinate, because the CBO says it’s gonna grow some real good flowers so we can harvest something.”