WASHINGTON (AP) Supporters of a far-reaching immigration bill in the Senate see fresh momentum from a report by congressional budget analysts that says the measure would boost the economy and reduce federal deficits by hundreds of billions of dollars.
The Congressional Budget Office, Congress’ nonpartisan scorekeeping agency, said Tuesday that the immigration bill would decrease federal red ink by $197 billion over a decade and $700 billion in the following 10 years as increased taxes paid to the government offset the cost of benefits for newly legal residents.
The measure being considered by the Senate toughens border security while holding out the hope of citizenship to millions of people who came to the United States illegally or overstayed their visas.
About 8 million immigrants living unlawfully in the U.S. would initially gain legal status under the sweeping legislation moving toward a vote in the Senate, the analysis by the Congressional Budget Office said.
Immigration has become a top national issue once again after opposition Republicans lost last year’s presidential election as Hispanic voters voted overwhelmingly for President Barack Obama, wary of the conservative Republican focus on deportations.
The White House said the eagerly awaited CBO report was “more proof that bipartisan commonsense immigration reform will be good for economic growth and deficit reduction.” Several members of the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” senators who drafted the legislation also welcomed the news.
The CBO assessment came as the pace of activity increased at both ends of the Capitol on an issue that Obama has placed at the top of his domestic agenda for his second-term.
Challenged by protesters chanting, “Shame, shame,” House Republicans advanced separate legislation to crack down on immigrants living illegally in the United States.
The bill approved late Tuesday by the House Judiciary Committee on a 20-15 party-line vote would make being in the U.S. illegally a federal crime punishable by prison time, instead of a civil offense as it is now. It also would empower state and local law enforcement officials to enforce federal immigration laws.
Republicans said the bill was needed to ensure enforcement of the law and said the legislation was a first step in an incremental approach toward solving the immigration issue, in contrast to the comprehensive approach being taken by the Democratic-led Senate. Many in the Republican-controlled House oppose tackling the immigration issue with a single, big bill.
On Wednesday, the committee was to take up a bill creating a temporary agriculture worker program. Democrats called the bill a dangerous retread of a similarly tough enforcement measure that sparked mass protests around the country in 2006.
In the Senate, the bipartisan bill that Obama supports appeared on track for a final vote as early as July 4.
The CBO said in its report and accompanying economic analysis that the Senate legislation would raise economic activity in each of the next two decades, in part because of the legal immigration fostered by the measure and also because millions of workers currently in the country illegally would join the legal workforce and pay taxes.
The CBO said the bill would increase gross domestic product by 3.3 percent over the next 10 years compared with current law and by 5.4 percent over the following decade. The agency forecast that 8 million people now here illegally would gain legal status under the bill.
The CBO also said that average wages would decline through 2025 as a result of the bill and that unemployment would go up slightly.
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