One thing all Americans agree on is the need to improve our economy. But as with so many other political issues, extremists in both parties are working against that mutual goal.
Their rigid positions prevent commonsense solutions that will help the economy. Both the lack of a rational energy policy and outdated immigration laws hurt our economy. Needed changes are resisted by extremists from the left and right.
The poster child for the far left’s reduced carbon energy policy is the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Those against the pipeline say the tar sands’ crude oil will increase pollution and global warming because more greenhouse gases are produced during refining. Deferring to those who oppose the XL pipeline, President Obama has postponed an approval decision indefinitely.
THE NATIONAL Climate Assessment released in May emphasizes our increasing climate problem, and Democrats are correct to work toward reducing climate damage. But the fact is the Canadian crude will be refined even if the XL pipeline is not built. The Canadians will instead build a western pipeline to an ocean port near Vancouver.
In the interim, the crude oil will be hauled by trains. But the increased use of trains for transporting crude has resulted in several actual and near disasters. Pipelines are safer, less expensive and pollute less than trains. America has 2.6 million miles of gas and oil pipelines, and an additional thousand miles is insignificant.
Because the tar sands oil will be refined in any case, the claim that the XL pipeline will increase pollution is false. The pipeline would contribute $3.4 billion annually to the U.S. economy, and reduce our dependence on oil from unfriendly countries.
XL pipeline opponents are taking a symbolic stand, not a real one. Their political energy would be better spent finding realistic trade-offs between the needs for energy and reducing pollution.
But Republicans have their own albatross: a failure to fix outdated immigration laws. Their point is that we have 12 million illegal immigrants, mostly Hispanic, who violated the law when they entered this country, and they must be dealt with.
REPUBLICANS ARE right. But in forging a solution, we must acknowledge the reality of the illegals’ presence, and the labor needs of the economy. We should not put illegal immigrants at the head of the line for legal residency or citizenship, but we need the less-skilled immigrant workers to fill jobs U.S. citizens don’t fill. Millions of agriculture, food service, construction and cleaning jobs are filled by immigrants, many illegal.
A second immigration problem is our need for highly skilled engineers and scientists. Many of the world’s most talented people want to come to America to study at our graduate schools and work in the high-tech industry. We educate the students, and then send them home because of outdated restrictions on work visas for this country.
According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the impact of the Senate immigration bill passed last year is an economic windfall: “The bill would increase the U.S. GDP by 3.3 percent ($700 billion) in 2023 and 5.4 percent ($1.4 trillion) in 2033.”
SAFELY GERRYMANDERED Republican representatives do not seem concerned that their intransigence not only reduces economic growth, but badly damages their 2016 presidential candidate. Republicans lost the Hispanic vote in the last presidential election, 71 percent to 27 percent. Hispanics are the fastest-growing ethnic group in America, yet Republicans can’t decide whether to take them out of residency limbo.
As Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina bluntly put it, “It’s hard to sell your economic agenda if they think you’re going to deport their grandmother.” House Speaker John Boehner has tried without success to get his House Republican colleagues to address immigration reform.
Wrapping oneself in a righteous position may feel good, but it hurts the economy. Hyperpartisan Democrats and Republicans should do something courageous – compromise.
Give a little, get a little.
(The writer is a retired U.S. Navy officer. He lives and writes in Savannah.)