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Wall Street Journal’s John Fund on the problems with the Senate immigration bill, and a quick look at the political landscape.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007
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HH: Continuing our focus, as we will for the next three weeks, on this massively important, incredibly complex new draft immigration bill. Joined now by John Fund of the Wall Street Journal. He has a piece today at OpinionJournal.com. John, I spent all weekend reading this…

JF: My condolences.

HH: I know, but there’s so many problems. What are you hearing about the initial reaction from the Hill, and especially from the Republicans?

JF: Well, a lot of head scratching, because they can’t understand privately what in the world is going on. You’re completely bypassing the Judiciary Committee, the bill is barely dry. It hasn’t been posted online in any official form. Only some bloggers have done it. And they’re hearing an incredible outpouring of confusion, and I think frustration from their constituents, especially because I think they’re trying to sell this as a comprehensive approach, but people aren’t convinced that border security’s at the center of it.

HH: Are you convinced that border security is at the center of it, John? I am not.

JF: I haven’t read the whole bill. I have to tell you, I’m a former staffer in the California State Legislature, and I know how bills get ramrodded through without proper review. You know, the Federal Trade Commission, Hugh, has a policy which says any time a seller with a good offer is trying to use high pressure tactics, you know that the offer’s too good to be true. These high pressure tactics are being done, because people don’t want anyone to read the bill. And I’ve seen this happen over and over. Let’s be honest. The Patriot Act could have been much better written if it hadn’t been written and passed in the rush with no hearings after 9/11. The prescription drug benefit bill, which passed after the vote was held open for five hours, nobody knew what was in it. That could have been much improved. This is the same thing. Any time you’re rushing in Congress, where the normal procedure is to act like it’s a molasses train, you know, that something is up, that somebody’s trying to pull a fast one on you.

HH: Let me talk about some of those fast ones, John Fund, and get your reaction. As I went through the bill, I kept looking for the section that would deal with young males from Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries, or other countries with jihadist networks, for special treatment. There is no such distinguishing, thus a 21 year old Jordanian or Egyptian who snuck into the country over the Mexican border in 2002 is treated the same as a 64 year old Mexican who’s been here for fourteen years. Does that make sense?

JF: Well, of course not, and what you have here is a very awkward alliance between the ACLU liberals, and I think the Chamber of Commerce conservatives. And the pieces don’t always fit.

HH: What about the idea of record keeping violations? Buried deep in this law, John Fund, is a $1,000 dollar per incident of record keeping mistakes on employers, even employers who have not been shown to employ an illegal ever. But if they keep their records wrong, that’s a massive expansion of state power. Is that something that anyone’s focused on?

JF: Well, it sounds very much like in the old way the OSHA operated. OSHA, the Occupational Safety Health organization, they used to basically come and spring inspections on people, and fine people for the most niggling violations. And I have to tell you, I’m in favor of a comprehensive immigration reform bill. I’ve written favorably about the Bracero Program from the 50’s. I think it can be done. But it can’t be done this way, and it can’t be done using this procedure, because the American people won’t trust it, and they won’t rely upon it, and frankly, they won’t obey it.

HH: You’re exactly right about OSHA. I was trying to remember what this thing reminded me of, and it’s the OSHA record keeping. It’s that nightmare, which Ronald Reagan actually ran against to great effect, in 1980.

JF: And ended it.

HH: And ended it, yup. And now, they’re bringing it back, and the same kind of bureaucratic nightmare will ensue. Let’s talk a little bit about the way the government works, John. You’ve been around D.C. a long time, you know how it works. This law is mandating at least 12 million face to face interviews, and 12 million background checks. How long do you think it will take to do that, and who do you think is going to do it?

JF: They won’t get done. And I mean, that’s a guarantee. It will not happen. The government will simply collapse under the sheer weight of that responsibility.

HH: And you know that they actually anticipate in the law that happening by calling for, and this is in Section 216, I send you to it, the secretary of Homeland Security, and the Attorney General shall establish an inter-agency task force to resolve cases in which an application or petition for an immigration benefit conferred under this act has been delayed due to an outstanding background check investigation for more than two years. They’re just going to get together after two years and call Ollie, Ollie, in free, John.

JF: Well, I think what also is going to happen is if you look at the fact that basically, people are going to be told you can stay, and the fines are going to be something like $6,500 dollars, a lot of people are not going to be part of this process. They’ve already got their fake documents.

HH: You’re right.

JF: And the tamper-proof ID? I’ll wait until I see it.

HH: And what about the Social Security benefits? I thought that had been killed dead. It’s back.

JF: Well, I’m more concerned about the fact that everybody is not going to be forced to pay any kind of back taxes whatsoever, even if it’s just an estimate. And I think that’s an incredible retreat, because President Bush earlier this year said part of coming out of the shadows is also paying the back taxes that you might owe. So I’m less troubled by the Social Security, because I do think that people have actually worked, and eventually, they’re going to have to be supported by somebody. But the back taxes, I mean, that was part of the deal originally. We were going to force people to pay back taxes.

HH: I agree with that, at least 50%, something over a period of time, perhaps. But I disagree on Social Security. Now, John, let’s talk politics. John McCain announced this with great fanfare, said everything that critics would be extracurricular politics, wanted to do a jam down. What’s the effect been on John McCain’s already staggered campaign for the presidency?

JF: Well, he’s taken off after Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson for their skepticism on the bill. I think he’s getting very sensitive. I mean, you saw last week the explosion. I mean, I have given John McCain enormous credit. For the last two or three years, the temper had gone away, he had been remarkably reasonable, and now it’s flared up again, and it just makes you wonder what is it about this issue that gets, that has John McCain so worried and so stressed.

HH: What about personal attacks in response to policy criticisms? On the conference call today, he lashed out at Mitt Romney for employing Guatemalans, which isn’t true. And then, repeated, in essence, what he did at the debate last week, taking a criticism of McCain-Feingold to attack Romney. Does that fly well in a long, long campaign season?

JF: I have always said that I think John McCain’s campaign is basically trying to replicate the lightning in a bottle situation that he had in 2000, where he was the fresh, new thing, and where he was the darling of the media. He’s no longer the darling of the media, he’s no longer fresh, and frankly, his internal contradictions to the fact that he still won’t explain why he opposed the Bush tax cuts is catching up with him.

HH: Now I want to go way off of our subject, and talk about Michael Bloomberg. If we runs, who does he take votes from, John?

JF: Well, I think if he took Chuck Hagel as a running mate, the Nebraska Senator, he might break into a little bit of the heartland, but I doubt that Hagel would agree to such a deal, because being vice president to Michael Bloomberg would be pretty much an irrelevancy. So assuming that he doesn’t get a prominent Republican to run with him, he’s going to take some votes away from Hillary Clinton. They’re both Northeasterners, they’re both from New York.

HH: And is there any way that John McCain takes his ball and goes home if he’s rejected? Do you worry that he’ll bolt the party?

JF: No, I don’t think he has the gumption to want to do that. I don’t think he’s a party pooper. I don’t think he’ll run as an independent. I think he’s in this fight to lose or win, fair and square.

HH: And finally, I asked Jim VandeHei this a couple of weeks ago. He didn’t know the answer. Has anyone yet written about the recurrence rate of the sort of cancer that Fred Thompson has, in the lymphoma, and the effective recurrences? Do you know those stats?

JF: Well, I do know that there’s a French study which indicates that there is often a recurrence, but the point is, there are about 30 different kinds of lymphoma. So unless you’re a medical doctor, I’d be very careful about specifying that, because there are always new studies that have come out, and you have to be up to date completely on the latest ones.

HH: Yeah, I’m trying to figure it out, but no one’s written it up, yet. John Fund, always a pleasure. Thanks for joining us from the Wall Street Journal, Opinionjournal.com.

End of interview.

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