The President has yet to sign a bill to raise the debt ceiling, but now that the bill has passed the House, the odds are pretty likely the measure will become law. The debate over the last few weeks reminds me of the immigration debate. Public opinion polls clearly tell us that most Americans basically agree on the best approach to addressing debt - mix spending cuts while rolling back the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy and closing corporate tax loopholes. We know, however, that the opinion of the majority doesn't matter - just the opinion of a small Tea Party minority in the Republican Party that can back primary opponents and fail to turn out in general elections. Even hinting at compromising on taxes is out of the question for some of the more extreme members of Congress.
And that is basically the same story that has played out over the last few years on immigration. The same folks that refuse to compromise on taxes also refuse to consider any immigration legislation that provides for anything other than lifetime banishment from the US for individuals who are out of status. Fines, long waits, English tests, public service mandates, criminal checks, paying back taxes - none are enough.
In both the debt and immigration debates, opponents of compromise would be willing to see the country suffer severe consequences rather than accepting anything less than 100% of their demands. In the case of the debt ceiling debate, we face prolonging the recession by relying too heavily on cuts to balance the budget and still could suffer a downgrade in our credit rating because without increasing revenue, we can't get close to balancing our books. In the case of immigration, we know industries like agriculture are threatened by the enforcement bills being considered and we are missing out on the job creation benefits of immigration as Congress remains paralyzed.
And then there are the specific consequences of the budget deal to consider. We don't know yet where the specific cuts are going to come from, but we do know that Congress has until Thanksgiving to find about $2.5 trillion to cut from the budget over the next ten years. And we know that other proposals floated recently had major reductions in spending that affects immigration processing. For example, the "Gang of Six" proposal called for an immediate $65 billion cut at the Department of Homeland Security. That would no doubt lead to mass layoffs at DHS, USCIS and ICE which would translate in to longer waits and worse service for those processing immigration applications coupled with a serious reduction in immigration enforcement efforts. The Labor Department would share a $70 billion cut under the same plan which could impact labor certification processing and the enforcement of H-1B worker protections. The Simpson Bowles commission called for the elimination of the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Delta Regional Authority and a 2/3 reduction in Medicare funding for physician training, all proposals that would have immediate and devastating consequences for physician immigration.
Of course, while tax increases are largely off the table (at least for a while), immigration programs could be a source of new funds. Fees from visa programs for entrepreneurs, uncapping green card categories, DREAM Act and legalization program fines, etc. are all potential sources of billions of dollars and wouldn't involve any painful sacrifices on the part of Americans. Perhaps the cold hard realities of having to cut programs like Medicare and Social Security or raising taxes in order deal with the debt will bring back the pragmatism that used to be a hallmark of our political culture.
Greg Siskind is a partner in Siskind Susser's Memphis, Tennessee, office. After graduating magna cum laude from Vanderbilt University, he received his Juris Doctorate from the University of Chicago. Mr. Siskind is a member of AILA, a board member of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, and a member of the ABA, where he serves on the LPM Publishing Board as Marketing Vice Chairman. He is the author of several books, including the J Visa Guidebook and The Lawyer's Guide to Marketing on the Internet. Mr. Siskind practices all areas of immigration law, specializing in immigration matters of the health care and technology industries. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.