Manchin: We're going to do immigration reform in the infrastructure reconciliation bill

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Good lord. This just turned serious.

“Immigration”? What does that mean in this context? Are we talking about something for DREAMers or full amnesty for all illegals?

Bloomberg adds a few more details:

Manchin on Wednesday afternoon signaled support for some aspects of the plan and said he is “fine” with it including language establishing legal permanent residency for some immigrants.

“I’m a 2013 immigration supporter,” Manchin said, referring to a Senate-passed bill that would have made it possible for many undocumented immigrants to gain legal status. “If we had that bill then we would have the problems we have today.”

The 2013 “Gang of Eight” bill provided a 13-year path to full citizenship. Back in April Manchin reiterated that he thought some illegals should have a way to become citizens, including DREAMers. “It’s beyond time, past time, to do immigration reform,” he said. Now apparently he’s toying with providing at least permanent residency to some via a bill that’s set to pass on a party-line Democratic vote if all sides of the caucus can make the numbers work to their satisfaction.

Which means we’re suddenly closer to an amnesty of some unknown scope than we’ve been in ages.

There are still two ways it might be foiled apart from Dems not being able to come to terms among themselves. One is if some other Democrat, most likely Kyrsten Sinema, balks at the immigration provisions. But the fact that a colleague from a very red state like Manchin is onboard will make it hard for a purple-state senator like Sinema to get to his right on the issue. Plus, Sinema has said that she wants to be a new John McCain in the Senate, an allusion to his “maverick” tendencies. Well, McCain was always famously open to immigration reform (except in years when he was running for reelection and had to worry about a Republican primary). She’s not likely to block this if Manchin won’t back her up.

The last hope for Republicans is that the Senate parliamentarian will spike the immigration component of the bill on procedural grounds, as happened when lefty Dems wanted to add a national minimum-wage hike to the COVID relief bill. Under reconciliation, a bill has to bear directly on the budget; it can’t include “extraneous” or incidental non-budgetary subject matter. Normally that’s how we’d conceive of immigration reform, primarily a cultural rather than pecuniary dispute over whether to grant illegal immigrants a right to remain in the U.S. The wrinkle, however, is that legalizing millions of people could have enormous fiscal consequences, starting with employers paying them on the books and collecting tax revenue from them. So there is some budgetary salience to amnesty in a bill that otherwise needs to find $3.5 trillion in pay-fors.

If the parliamentarian concludes that immigration reform satisfies the so-called “Byrd rule” for reconciliation, there’s nothing stopping Dems from passing it apart from their own will to do so.

Needless to say, an amnesty component to reconciliation will be the straw that breaks the GOP’s back in negotiating with Biden and Schumer on the other track of infrastructure, the $600 billion bipartisan roads-and-bridges bill. Some centrist Republicans had already sounded skittish before last night’s announcement that the reconciliation track would feature a $3.5 trillion price tag, but afterward they sounded hostile:

Trump has already attacked the centrist Republicans working with Biden for acceding to a bad deal. Once Manchin’s interest in immigration reform starts circulating among righties, the well will be completely poisoned. Which is for the best, per Philip Klein:

The underlying spending being considered is bad on the merits, but it is completely irresponsible at a time when the U.S. is facing the largest debt as a share of the economy in its history — surpassing even World War II. It is absurd when the economy, which has already had $6 trillion worth of government infusions since the spring of 2020, is clearly recovering from the pandemic as the economy reopens — and when inflation is increasingly worrisome. Meanwhile, with the Medicare system already driving the long-term debt problem due to the increased retirement-age population and rising health care costs, the legislation would recklessly expand Medicare to cover dental, vision, and hearing services.

If Senator Joe Manchin wants to go along with this insanity, Democrats have the power to ram through much of their agenda on a partisan basis. But Republicans should do absolutely nothing to grease the wheels of this abomination by giving it the imprimatur of bipartisanship.

Walk away and let Manchin and his party take sole ownership of a $4.1 trillion omnibus bill that includes the roads-and-bridges spending, immigration reform, and a thousand other items from the Democratic wishlist. Dems will wager that if they pass that, it will endear them to midterm voters. Republicans will wager that, on the contrary, it’ll send GOP turnout next November through the roof. Democrats can live with that, though, if it means getting a meaningful chunk of their agenda passed now.

By the way, does this mean Manchin’s not running for reelection? Again, much depends on the scope of the immigration plan he has in mind — legalization for DREAMers is actually popular — but Republicans are going to eat him alive if he agrees to a mega-amnesty.