March 20, 2013— -- President Barack Obama along with Democratic and Republican lawmakers have said they would like to see an immigration law come to a vote in the Senate by June. But two party elders think that's too hopeful a goal.
Former Govs. Haley Barbour (R-Miss.) and Ed Rendell (D-Pa.) both said they support an immigration reform effort with a path to citizenship, but the pair expressed skepticism about reports that an immigration bill could come to a vote in the Senate by June.
"Having been in the White House in '86, the last time we did this, I know that it's complex and contentious," said Barbour, who was a political aide for President Ronald Reagan during the passage of the Immigration Control and Reform Act, which gave nearly three million people a path to citizenship. "To me, it's a little bit overly optimistic to be talking about what we're going to get done this spring or before the August recess."
Both Barbour and Rendell have deep political resumes, each having served as chairman for their respective parties. Since February, they've been advocating for immigration reform as part of a task force formed by the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) that includes former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who served in the administration of President George W. Bush.
In a press briefing at the BPC in Washington, D.C., Barbour and Rendell spelled out some of the roadblocks that they think reform will need to overcome.
One of the biggest will be the cost, according to Rendell.
He cited a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report that looked at costs associated with giving legal permanent residency to foreign students who graduate from U.S. universities with advanced degrees in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, commonly known as STEM.
A large portion of the expenses in the report were related to prospective health care coverage that immigrants would receive under the Affordable Care Act, the contentious law pass in 2010. With that in mind, Rendell thought the CBO estimate was off-base.
"Most of those people are high enough in terms of their education and their skill set they're going to go work for big companies that provide their own health insurance," Rendell said. "Or they're going to start their own business and actually do better because they're going to put dollars into the health care system."
A Senate aide working on the immigration reform bill in that chamber told ABC/Univision earlier this week that any bill will need to be revenue generating, and that processing fees for visas would help offset the costs of expenses like expanded border security and a national program to check legal work eligibility. The impact of health care coverage on the overall costs of the bill, therefore, could impact the policies that the Senate ultimately puts forth, unless legislators find a workaround.
Some studies looking at the long-term impact of immigration reform have found that it would bring huge gains in Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Most recently, the liberal Center for American Progress released a report that found reform that gave undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship would generate $1.4 trillion in additional GDP over the next 10 years.
But another roadblock for reform, according to Haley, is how the immigration system will change going forward.
"Right now the public is not exposed at all to the opposition that unions have to guest-worker permits, which are critical to making this work, particularly in the agricultural states," Barbour said.
Unions and business leaders have agreed to a framework for immigration reform, but as of last week, the two sides appeared far apart on some of the details. The AFL-CIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, whose negotiations will help shape the Senate bill, are finished with private negotiations, and are now working with the Senate group.
All of these factors made Barbour and Rendell think that reform could take longer than expected.
"At one point, when we first signed on, I was hopeful that we would lead the pack on immigration," Rendell said. "But now it looks like this is going to be a much longer and tougher slog."