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The early part of the 113th Congress, and the 112th Congress before it, has spent far too much time playing economic defense: whether it was debating over whether or not to raise the debt-ceiling or avoiding the fiscal cliff, a great deal of energy was spent figuring out ways to just soften the blow from years of reckless spending. Of course our enormous debt and annual deficits must be reduced, but the best tonic is enhanced economic growth. The legislative activity in recent days is finally different as markup continues on the Gang of 8’s Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013—a bill with significant implications for strengthening our economy.
This type of common sense immigration reform needs to be embraced by conservatives. Modernizing our broken immigration system will naturally stimulate a labor force with people revered for the type of small-business entrepreneurialism that will strengthen our economy and raise our GDP.
Former CBO Director and current President of the American Action Forum, Doug Holtz-Eakin (my partner in my role as Chairman of the AFF) penned a compelling study last month that examined just what our economy can expect from immigration reform. While Doug goes into far greater detail than I will here, the economics of the issue from a big-picture standpoint are elementary and proven to be true: when you increase the population with a group that has higher participation levels than the current population you grow and strengthen your labor force, growing GDP and most importantly growing GDP per capita—the ultimate sign for a growing economy.
In plain English, more people who work hard doing either highly skilled jobs or jobs Americans won’t do creates greater output and more money in our economy. We’re now celebrating job growth of under 200,000 jobs a month and unemployment north of 7.5%, all the while the participation of working age Americans in the workforce continues to shrink. The economy’s slow improvement is a good sign but it’s not good enough.
Conservatives need to be the small business party. We already stand for principles inherent to small business success but we need to articulate why that is: small businesses are the life-blood of our economy, and the people with the courage to run a small business embody the resiliency that makes us who we are. Over the past several decades immigrants have shown a higher propensity for owning small businesses—conservatives need to embrace policy that ushers in a greater opportunity for our economy to succeed.
Of course there are other issues to address as well and there’s no reason they shouldn’t be. Our border must be secure and immigrants who entered the process the right way must stay at the beginning of the line.
No doubt there are costs associated as well, some of which—emergency medical and child education—have been in place and paid for years; but passing this bill and beginning the true modernization of a broken system is an investment. It’s an investment that Congress should make in the same spirit earlier generations afforded our ancestors. The investment that allowed immigrants like my grandfather and my good friend Henry Kissinger to come and contribute to our nation, a nation of immigrants.