A new Congressional Budget Office report says the immigration reform bill before the Senate will cut the nation's deficit, but it would reduce illegal immigration by only a quarter of what it would be without the legislation.
Lawmakers on both sides of the issue, including Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, saw evidence in the CBO's findings to bolster their arguments Wednesday.
The CBO, which released its report Tuesday, said the bill would reduce the deficit by $197 billion between 2014 and 2023. It estimated implementation costs at $22 billion over that period.
The major reason, the agency said, is that more taxpaying workers would be added to the nation's labor force as a result of the bill, and their income and payroll taxes would outweigh their expenses to government programs.
Backers of the legislation say the report contradicts conservative claims that it would be a drain on the treasury.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said it would lead to a trillion dollar cut in the country's deficit, and pro-immigration groups hailed its release.
But critics pointed to a part of the report that projected there would be only a 25 percent reduction in the net annual flow of "unauthorized residents" to the United States than there would be without the legislation.
The report said it would be harder for people to enter the country and to find work in the U.S., but other parts of the legislation would likely result in immigrants overstaying visas that will be issued for new temporary work programs.
Grassley, who has been a persistent critic of the "Gang of Eight" legislation now on the floor, told Iowa reporters Wednesday that if supporters are going to tout the fiscal projections, they ought to accept the projected impact on the number of illegal residents.
He said they should take it as a cue to rewrite border security sections of the bill.
"They're making the same mistakes we did in '86," he said.
A spokesman for Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said the report doesn't criticize the bill's border security measures but only that people will overstay their visas.
As for the financial impact, the CBO report acknowledged that new legal residents wouldn't be eligible for government benefits in its normal 10-year planning window. But it said even outside that time frame, the agency estimated there would be a net fiscal benefit to the treasury of $700 billion between 2024 and 2033.
The CBO also projected economic impacts of the legislation, too. It said average overall wages would be lower in the first dozen years from what they would be otherwise but would rise after that.
In both cases, the differences would be small — one-half a percentage point or less.The effects wouldn't be evenly distributed, however. People in low- and high-skilled jobs would be more adversely affected than those with average skills, the report said. The legislation will result in larger numbers of new low- and high-skilled workers as a result, the study said.