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States, including Ohio, debate minimum wage

Thirteen states, including Ohio, are increasing their minimum wages instead of waiting around for Congress to act. While minimum wage employees and activists are happy with the raise, economists are split.



Ryan budget heats up


WASHINGTON – The byzantine circus that is budget season nears its zenith.

Today, the House continued its consideration of House Con Res. 96, better known as the Ryan Budget.  Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan’s budget would repeal the Affordable Care Act, among trillions in other cuts.  The word used most often to describe it today was “draconian.”

The budget will probably pass the House, but stands almost zero chance of passing the Senate.  You would think that would make this vote less heated.  You would be wrong.

Late in the day, an out-of-breath Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer took to the podium to refute Republican allegations that House Democrats were responsible for increasing the deficit.  “I heard Rep. Brady’s comments when I was downstairs and had to come right up here,” he panted.  The exchange between the Maryland Democrat and Texas Republican got heated, steadily increasing in volume.  At one point, Brady claimed that President Bush’s trillion-dollar addition to the deficit was the fault of former Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“I’d be happy to discuss that with you in a special order,” Hoyer responded.  That’s about as close as it gets in the House to saying “You wanna take this outside?”

At one point, three Wisconsin congressmen traded barbs about who knew the most about cheese.

The House will wrap up debate and vote on the Ryan budget tomorrow.

(Sean Kennedy/MEDILL)



Immigrant groups by age

Undocumented immigrants and lawful permanent residents are similar in age breakdown, even though their legal status could not be more different.

— Andrew Hedlund, Medill News Service

The Senate’s immigration cloture vote by 2012 presidential election results

ImmigrationClotureVote title=

When the Senate voted overwhelmingly, 82-15, to start debate on comprehensive immigration reform, many of the Republican senators representing blue states voted for it. All of the Democratic senators representing red states did as well.

I’m more bullish about the legislation’s prospects than some pundits. When the lion’s share of the upper chamber votes in a way not indicative of party or who won their state in the last presidential election, productivity seems much more imminent.

To be clear: This vote is not a binding vote for final passage of the bill. To sheperd the legislation through the Senate, the lawmakers who worked on the bill — known as the Gang of Eight — will need to garner a majority coalition to beat back controversial amendments.

One example comes from Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and John Cornyn, R-Texas. Leahy’s amendment would allow gay U.S. citizens to sponsor a foreign spouse. Cornyn’s amendment would tie the legislation’s pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants to border security.

Should either of these amendments, or any others of a controversial nature, pass, a large, bipartisan vote for final passage will not likely happen. However, 82 votes sets a high bar. The cloture vote merely means a towering number of senators believe the time is has come to consider an overhaul to the nation’s immigration system.

- By Andrew Hedlund, Medill News Service

Undocumented Immigrants By State of Residence and Country of Origin

The Senate voted Tuesday to begin debate on a momentous immigration reform bill — one that rivals the Affordable Care Act in length.

This is issue is widely viewed as an important topic to Hispanics — and with good reason. Almost 60 percent of the undocumented immigrants come from Mexico. The next three countries listed by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office are from Central America. 

But it should be noted that there are undocumented residents from countries all over the world — just not with the critical mass of Mexico and Central America.

— Andrew Hedlund, Medill News Service

Data: Congressional Budget Office



Senate votes to begin debate on immigration legislation

The Senate voted 82-15 Tuesday to invoke cloture, or begin debate, on a massive immigration reform bill. The legislation’s scope was readily apparent by the tower of papers that sat on several desks in the chamber. Such a solid, bipartisan vote bodes well for the future of this bill — more than 80 percent of senators seem to think the time has come to address not only the legal immigration system, but also to decide the fate of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S.

The measure now being considered sets a high bar for border security — if 90 percent of those trying to cross the border illegally are not apprehended by the fifth year, a special panel must be convened. By front-loading the border security measures, Democrats have made some significant concessions to allay Republican concerns that undocumented immigrants will be granted “amnesty,” or a route to citizenship that could be attained to easily. Most applying to become lawful U.S. residents will wait a decade before even being granted a green card. A special exception is granted to people who were brought to the country in an illegally when they were young.

In the first floor speech, Sen. Chuck Schumer said the bill would “ensure no future wave of illegal immigration.” The New York Democrat who worked on the bill arguably set a tall order — the last successful effort to overhaul the nation’s immigration system was under President Ronald Reagan. But another wave of people entering the country unlawfully ensued.

Though it garnered 82 votes to jump a procedural hurdle, the Gang of Eight — the group of four Democrats and four Republicans that drafted the legislation — must protect its creation from being tugged to far in either direction. Most notably, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, is likely to introduce an amendment tying the border security to a path to citizenship. He wrote in an op-ed published in USA Today that the bill “grants permanent legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants without any guarantee of a secure border.” If the route to citizenship is littered with obstacles though, immigration reform advocates would be hard-pressed to vote for it.

One reason some Republicans are going along is political: demographics are destiny, the thought goes. With Hispanics making up a burgeoning portion portion of the electorate, Republicans must remain competitive in this demographic. After Mitt Romney earned a paltry 27 percent of the Hispanic vote in November, many Republicans are eager to do some to bolster the party’s image among this key demographic.

— Andrew Hedlund, Medill News Service



Obama: Republican outrage on Benghazi a “sideshow”

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Monday called Republican outrage over last year’s attack in Benghazi a political “sideshow.”

"We’ve got a whole bunch of people in the State Department who consistently say, ‘You know what, I’m willing to step up, I’m willing to put myself in harm’s way because I think that this mission is important in terms of serving the United States and advancing our interests around the globe.’ And so we dishonor them when we turn things like this into a political circus," Obama said.

Republicans are accusing the Obama administration of covering up the aftermath of the attack last year that left four Americans dead, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.

During a House committee hearing last week, internal e-mails showed that top officials scrubbed any mention of al-Qa’ida from talking points given to members of Congress, including United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice. 

These talking points are the crux of the ongoing battle between the administration and Republicans, who say that officials knew the attacks were terrorism-related, and not related to a documentary on Islam, as Rice initially reported.

Obama made the remarks in a White House news conference alongside British Prime Minister David Cameron, who is visiting the U.S.

-Mariam Khan, Medill News Service



South Korean president: Nuclear-armed North Korea will not be tolerated

WASHINGTON — South Korea President Park Geun-hye brought her tough talk to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, declaring her nation would not tolerate a nuclear-armed North Korea.

Any violent intent from her northern neighbor would be “met decisively,” Park said.

She took efforts, though, to note that her nation wants peaceful resolution to the current tensions.  “I will remain steadfast in pushing forward a process of trust-building on the Korean Peninsula,” Park told House and Senate lawmakers.

It’s the second day of Park’s visit to the United States. On Tuesday, she met with President Barack Obama and the two stood strongly together in the face of new threats from North Korea.

“Following on our meeting yesterday, President Obama and I adopted a joint declaration,” said Park. “We are determined to embark on another shared journey toward peace on the Korean Peninsula.”

Park said she believes trust will win out.

“And with the trust that gradually builds up, through exchange, through cooperation, we will cement the grounds for durable peace and eventually peaceful reunification,” said Park.

Park went on to say that Korea’s economy is stable and Asia suffers from disconnect between growing economic interdependence and national security cooperation.

The alliance between South Korea and the U.S. will help face these challenges, she said. 

“We are expanding cooperation on global issues like counter-terrorism, nuclear non-proliferation and the global financial crisis,” Park said. 

The U.S. trade deficit to South Korea in March was $1.3 billion, compared to $551 million a year earlier, according to Bloomberg analysis. Also, the value of U.S. exports to South Korea declined to $3.85 billion from $4.2 billion last year.

The U.S. and South Korea have a free trade agreement that went into effect just 14 months ago.

“Our economic partnership must also aim higher and reach further into the future,” said Park. “Our chorus of freedom and peace, of future and hope, has not ceased to resonate over the last 60 years and will not cease to go on.” 

— John Burfisher, Medill News Service

Until the aftermath of Benghazi, I loved every day of my job.
Benghazi Witness who testified Wednesday at the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform 

The rapidly shifting public opinion on gay marriage

Delaware legalized same-sex marriage Tuesday. Rhode Island did the same late last week. That brings the total number of states permitting such partnerships to 11.

Just under a decade ago, in the 2004 elections, 11 states put gay marriage ban propositions on the ballot. All 11 of them passed. But, oh, how times change.

Maryland, Minnesota and Maine all passed ballot propositions allowing gay marriage in the last year. Minnesota rejected a ban on gay marriage.

At the federal level, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear two cases regarding the wedge issue — one on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act and the other a challenge to California’s ban on gay marriage — in what already promises to be a blockbuster Supreme Court session.

The sitting president supports marriage equality, and filed a brief with the Supreme Court calling for the nine justices to rule California’s law unconstitutional, but stopped short of asking the court to declare same-sex marriage a constitutional right.

The about-face of public opinion on this issue has been almost overnight. In looking for empirical data, we need to look no further than Gallup. The polling firm keeps a list of all the questions it has asked regarding marriage over the years. Interracial marriage and the social taboos that once surrounded it are somewhat akin to the controversy surrounding gay marriage.

The numbers show that when asked about marriage between a black person and a white person, it took until the early 1990s to get even a simple plurality and until 1997 to get a majority. (Note: Several years lapsed between the asking of these questions.)

What’s more, this social issue that was once a core conservative cause has almost faded from view; this is rooted in one simple reason: younger voters overwhelming support the right to marriage, regardless of sexual orientation.

If the Republican Party cares to evolve with the electorate, gay marriage needs to become a non-issue with their base, as 18- to 29-year-old voters constituted for 19 percent in November’s election, meaning this age group had a larger turnout than the 65-and-over age group.

A poll conducted by The Washington Post and ABC News showed that 70 percent of 18- to 39-year-olds favors legalizing same-sex marriage. This is the precise group that Republicans need to win over to avoid future losses.

- By Andrew Hedlund, Medill News Service



Forcing the GOP House majority’s hand on immigration reform

In this morning’s The Washington Post’s Morning Fix, Chris Cillizza penned an insightful analysis of immigration reform vs. a grand bargain on the nation’s debt. To sum up his argument, immigration reform is much easier to find common ground on because it isn’t the Republican Party’s signature issue and changing demographics make inaction on something this significant politically perilous for the GOP. More than 70 percent of the Hispanic vote went for President Barack Obama in last November’s election, a potential harbinger for Republicans. 

As recently as 2004, then-President George W. Bush garnering 44 percent of the Hispanic vote. Despite conservative tendencies in many areas, Bush actually had a moderate immigration reform plan he pushed. But amid Hurricane Katrina, a slowing economy, and a war of which the public grew weary, it got lost in the shuffle. And that brings us to where we are today. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney talked about “self-deportation ” last year or, more bluntly put, making life so difficult for undocumented immigrants that they voluntarily leave.

A large obstacle stands in immigration reform’s way: the House of Representatives. Speaker John Boehner and the GOP leadership in the lower chamber often face a conservative revolt, something that Politico’s Jake Sherman outlined yesterday. Many blame Republican redistricting as the culprit of this. The argument says that redistricting essentially put the GOP House majority on lock for the next decade, meaning many districts are substantially more conservative than they would otherwise be.

There are competing views of this. Two prominent analyses were published in February examining this. Sam Wang, who runs the Princeton Election Consortium, argued in The New York Times, agreed with the redistricting argument while political scientists Danny Hayes and John Sides rebut this idea in The Washington Post’s Wonkblog. The idea bears a second look because the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee is scheduled to begin hearings on immigration reform legislation next week. 

The unwritten Hastert Rule is essential for maintaining support among the House Republican caucus for Boehner. This idea says that any legislation a speaker brings to the floor should have a majority of the majority backing it. The conservative tendency of many House GOP lawmakers though might make this very difficult. Thus, the Ohio Republican may rely on Democratic votes to put a moderate immigration plan over the top — or at least an immigration plan that stands a chance of passing the Democratic Senate. 

Perhaps the easiest way to force House action on immigration legislation is to amass 70 votes or more in the Senate in favor of the Gang of Eight’s immigration plan. This would mean at least a majority of the minority caucus supported any overhaul that might hit the Senate floor. Such a bipartisan majority would alienate conservatives in the House, forcing them to either accept the blame for the plan’s failure or move to the center. Similar scenarios happened at the end of 2011 when Congress renewed the temporary payroll tax cut and on the fiscal cliff deal. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is normally in lockstep with Boehner, abandoned the speaker, leaving him between a rock and a hard place. 

Failure to pass an immigration reform plan leaves the House majority vulnerable on an important issue in next year’s midterm election. Last year, the Democrat’s new governing coalition, of which Hispanics make a substantial portion, proved 2008 was not a fluke. If the president can get these same voters fired up and convince them to turn out for a midterm election, which is more difficult than ratcheting up turnout in a presidential year, the Republicans might lose seats, particularly if approval ratings stay where they are. 

Andrew Hedlund, Medill News Service



We make no bones that we are recruiting people to help fulfill Canada’s needs.
Neil Yeates, Canadian Deputy Minister, Citizenship and Immigration.  Speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies Tuesday, he said the “main thrust” of Canada’s immigration system is a points regime aimed at pulling in skilled labor.