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The CBO vs. the Gang of Eight


Supporters of the immigration bill before the Senate, and the press, are treating the new CBO report on some of its effects as an advertisement for passing it. They are highlighting its conclusions that the legislation will likely increase the size of the economy and reduce the deficit over the next twenty years. Take a step back to think about the overall debate about the bill, though, and it looks as though the CBO has actually driven a stake through the heart of the Gang of Eight’s case.

The bill has not primarily been sold as a deficit-reduction measure or a way to increase GNP per capita by 0.2 percent in 20 years’ time. It has been sold as a way — the only practical way — of getting illegal immigration under control. That’s what supporters are getting at when they say that the status quo is unacceptable, that it’s a de facto amnesty, and that nothing could be worse than not passing a bill. Now the CBO tells us that under the bill we will have only 25 percent less illegal immigration than it expects under current law.

So we will have a massive increase in legal immigration, much of it unskilled, and a significant but modest reduction in illegal immigration compared to what we have been expecting. The economic benefits for people coming here will presumably be substantial; that’s the major reason they’ll come. The economic benefits for people already here will, it seems likely, be negligible. Some people already here, notably low-skilled workers, will for several years see their wages fall as a result of the bill. And we’ll get to have this whole debate again in ten years, when it will be time to bring another large group of illegal immigrants out of the shadows.

It is certainly open to supporters of the bill to dispute the CBO’s pessimistic projection about future illegal immigration. But if they do that, they will have to also throw out the deficit and GNP numbers they’ve been touting, since as I understand it those projections are based on the number of people that are expected to be here.

So what remains of the rationale for the bill?