As the person most involved in the immigration debate, Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), has taken the brunt of the attacks from his fellow conservatives opposed to reform. Rather than just sit still and allow the attacks to fly with no response, he has taken a different approach. Rubio has gone on the offensive, disputing the most recent report from the Heritage Report, the most highly regarded conservative think tank, that claims immigration reform would be a net drain on the United States economy.
Rubio is the visible head of a coalition of conservatives that are fighting against the Republican Party’s hardline anti-immigration faction. With all the talk of discord in the Republican Party in the wake of their 2012 election losses, the immigration reform debate provides a clear example of the conflict in the Republican Party.
The Heritage Foundation’s immigration study claimed the current immigration reform bill would cost the U.S. economy $6.3 trillion. A similar study in 2007 claimed that immigration reform would cost the U.S. economy $2.6 million and was instrumental in defeating former President George W. Bush’s push for immigration reform.
However Heritage’s study has come under attack by a variety of fellow conservatives. Many claim that the study because the article ignores dynamic scoring it misses many of the economic benefits that immigration reform would provide. Dynamic scoring has become a cause célèbre for Republicans, who have used it to justify tax cuts and managing to offer nonbinding resolution that called the Congressional Budget Office to produce a dynamic score when estimating tax legislation, considered a major coup in March. Josh Cullings of Americans for Tax Reform gave the ultimate insult to Heritage when asked about the study:
"It’s a concern. Heritage ceded the superiority of dynamic scoring. CBO is basically to the right of Heritage. It is a worry."
Accusing the flagship conservative think tank of being insufficiently conservative is fighting words in conservative circles. But many are backing criticism of the study.
The patron saint of fiscal conservatism Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has said that he does not agree with Heritage study. Rubio has said that abandoning dynamic scoring is flawed and that he does not "believe their report is really legitimate." Senator Jeff Flake blasted it Twitter:
On the organizational front, many major conservative think tanks and other groups are blasting the study as well. The American Conservative Union, the oldest conservative lobbying foundation in the U.S., denounced the study. Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a key Republican economic adviser and president of the American Action Forum, strongly disagreed with the bill in his analysis. The CATO Institute called the study "flawed" and wrote, "It’s not the first time that I’ve questioned the free-market credentials of my friends at Heritage lately."
The American Enterprise Institute, a flagship of conservative economic policy, said it was “impossible to draw a reasonable conclusion” from the Heritage study. Tim Kane of the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank, and a former member of the Heritage Foundation said he was “disappointed in its poor quality.”
Even more troubling news for the Heritage study emerged when it was revealed that one of the authors of the study wrote that Latino immigrants have inherently lower IQs then white Americans. Jason Richwine wrote:
“No one knows whether Hispanics will ever reach IQ parity with whites, but the prediction that new Hispanic immigrants will have low-IQ children and grandchildren is difficult to argue against.”
The extraordinary pushback against the Heritage Foundation’s immigration study shows the degree of division in the Republican Party and conservative circles over whether to change in the face of a rapidly evolving electorate. It is an argument that will not be solved quickly and will have may more harsh words traded between previous allies before it is over.