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Immigration and the Senate Super Majority
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November 20, 2008, 03:35 PM
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Recently, a Democrat was announced as the winner in the Senate race in Alaska. The Minnesota race is too close to call, but according to Intrade there is a 61-63% chance Democrat Al Franken, will win. If that happens, Democrats will have 57 seats in the Senate and will include Independents Lieberman and Saunders in their Senate caucus. If the Democrats can get 60 seats, they will have a "super majority", which places extreme importance on the outcome of the Senate race in Georgia, which will be decided in December by special election. Intrade suggests, there is an 82.7%-83% chance that Republican Saxby Chambliss will win re-election. However, that race is still very much in play-and it is clear many in the Democratic Party would mobilize considerable resources to win it.

Immigration is a key factor in the election. From the website of the Democratic challenger, James Martin:

"Under the Bush Administration, four million new people have entered our country illegally. Saxby Chambliss has voted four times against increased funding for border security and has taken millions of dollars from the business interests that benefit from the broken Bush system. When he was Chair of the Immigration Subcommittee, Chambliss should have been holding the Administration accountable, not toeing the line for special interests."
Martin is working real hard to make Chambliss sound lax on immigration. However, according to Americans for Better Immigration, Saxby Chambliss`s voting record earned him an A rating. Chambliss was given a perfect record on Border Security by ABI. The only areas in which that voting record is somewhat lax is in interior enforcement where Chambliss earned an A instead of an A+—and guest worker visas, where Chambliss earned a B. The only major vote of interior enforcement ABI took issue with Chambliss on was a 1996 vote that would have mandated better worker verification. However, on the issue of Guest Worker Visas like H-1b, Chambliss has a record of often supporting corporate interests over American workers.

I`m rather puzzled. There may be some limitations on the ABI ratings. However, it looks like James Martin`s staff are trying to play games. They know the public in Georgia wants less immigration-+and they are trying to convince Georgia voters that they will be better than Chambliss on the immigration issue. Martin specifically talks tough on the area of employment sanctions—and promises he will work on their enforcement.

However, Martin rules out any possibility of significant deportations and completely sidesteps the issue of H-1b/Guest worker visas—which could be a significant issue in Georgia, because that state has a significant IT industry, and H-1b expansion is an important enough issue that IT workers who have traditionally voted Republican will switch party affiliation to get action on that issue because they know their livelihoods and economic security are on the line. Such voters might make up less than 1% of the electorate, but in a close election, every vote counts, and it would be possible to target advertising to that group. Most importantly: Martin`s staff don`t show Martin will really be able to stand up to his own party leaders on the issue of immigration-which he will need to do since expansion of immigration emerged under Democratic rule and so many Democratic leaders want expanded immigration. Martin`s rhetoric sounds remarkably like other major national figures going for big campaign donations-and he does little to differentiate himself from the Democratic establishment-or show how his election would really improve the situation relative to Chambliss.

I actually agree with Martin on many issues. However, I doubt the entire Democrat platform means anything if US immigration is not contained and properly managed. Since the massive immigration expansion of the 1960`s, the US has moved towards greater inequality of wealth and income, to the point by some important measures, the US is nearing the level of economic inequality we see in countries like Mexico.

Income Inequality since WW II

I don`t think most Democratic leaders wanted this to happen. Some like Eugene McCarthy had the integrity to admit they had made a horrible mistake-and actively worked to correct that mistake. The important leaders of the left wing congress, including figures like Dennis Kucinich, Bernie Sanders and Peter DeFazio, have come to admit expansion of H-1b was a horrible mistake-though they are sometimes unsure what really ought to be done to correct the situation. Clearly Martin could take a strong stand on this issue if he had the will to do so-and the backing of his party leaders.

It comes down to a question of just how badly does the Democratic party want to win? Democrats clearly have the money it would take for Martin to run a credible race the next few weeks. I`m amazed the Democratic leadership let Martin be outspent 4-1, and it is a credit to Martin, and Obama`s coat tails, that Martin did was well as he did. However, it will take more than money for Martin to win. He will have to also look truly carefully at the issues.

I would love to see both candidates seriously debate immigration policy. On immigration, we know quite a lot about Saxby Chambliss. However, I would like him to explain just why he continued to vote for expansion of H-1b visas even after US workers were being edged out of technical occupations and US students were seeking other educational options based on the changing market conditions. How does this relate to his overall pattern of seeking less immigration?

I would like James Martin to explain just what the votes are he`s referring to suggesting that Chambliss is not tough on illegal immigration. More importantly, Martin needs to explain just what kind of immigration policy he wants for the United States: How many immigrants should the US admit each year?

How should the US select from its over 10 million applicants for immigration each year?

How stiff does Martin think penalties on employers must be to be effective-and how far is he willing to go?

Under what conditions should these policies be changed? What protections does Martin propose for American workers and just how will he change his proposed policies if the US continues to move towards greater inequality of wealth and income?

This is also a case where small groups like the Programmers Guild just might force themselves to be heard. Just a few radio ads detailing the key issues-and challenging both candidates to start answering questions could force some issues in a race where this much is at stake. Neither Chambliss or Martin are clearly a friend of American tech workers. Let them explain why they are the lessor evil. Of course, there is a good chance they will lie—just like Lamar Alexander did, but let them lie blatantly in ways that will show their true character.

If Democrats win this race, they have no excuses if their program fails to help the American workers. If their program is tried with real integrity, failure to advance their position in congress and the senate in 2010 will be a horrible humiliation. We might also see a breakdown of party discipline with more independents like Bernie Sanders having electoral success. James Carville may be right yet—and we could see collapse of the GOP and emergence of a party that takes US worker`s interests seriously.