Is Our Conservative Think Tanks Learning?

by evanmcmurry

Jim DeMint becomes president of the Heritage Foundation and suddenly the pillars are made of plaster:

In what was almost certainly an unprecedented press call, top fiscal conservatives from Americans for Tax Reform, the Cato Institute, the Kemp Foundation and the American Action Network took what had once been the premier conservative think tank, the Heritage Foundation, to the woodshed for its immigration report that sees trillions in cost and no benefits from immigration reform.

With a more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger tone, Josh Culling of ATR said that while Heritage was a “treasured ally,” its work was a rehash of a flawed 2007 study that ignored all the benefits of immigration reform. Cato’s Alex Nowrasteh was even more outspoken saying “how disappointed” he was that Heritage abandoned conservative dynamic scoring (i.e. the impact a piece of legislation’s impact on the economy). He accused Heritage of not following years of their own work, which has striven to look at the impact on behavior of changes resulting from reforming the tax code and other innovations. “They ignored GDP, they ignored productivity,” he said in reeling off the list of items in the Gang of 8 legislation left out of Heritage. Cato’s study, which did use dynamic scoring, found that immigration reform would add $1.5 trillion in growth over ten years while forcing out 11 million immigrants (the Heritage solution) would lower GDP by $2.6 trillion over ten years.

The prize for candor, though, went to American Action Forum’s Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who stated flatly, “It really misleads.” Without dynamic scoring, H1-B visas, a guest worker program, and the other economic pluses from immigration reform and with a load of ludicrous assumptions (e.g. everyone would qualify for government benefits and take them) Heritage, he said, “gets a really big number.” He continued in describing the Heritage view of immigrants, “There is no American dream. They start in poverty. They end in poverty. Their kids are in poverty.”

But when the battle over immigration begins, this study will still be cited in anti-reform ads in swing states, scaring voters into thinking letting people earn money and pay taxes will somehow be bad for the economy, or that turning immigrants into employees will increase drag on the social safety net. DeMint is essentially doing to conservative thought what he once did to Republicans’ ability to pass policy in the Senate: making it into hard-right gristle.

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