Thursday, February 27, 2014

Chamber president: Immigration is a good thing

The Charlotte Chamber was among 636 businesses and business advocacy groups urging House Speaker John Boehner this week to make immigration reform happen.

Charlotte Chamber President Bob Morgan told the Observer editorial board this morning that immigration is good for business.

"The 12 to 13 million people who are here illegally, it's not practical to suggest that they leave. They're part of the workforce, they're part of the economy. Let's figure out a way to make them legal," Morgan said.

"Immigration is a good thing. Economies grow when populations grow. Immigration is a key way we keep our population and economy growing. Let's don't close the border; let's be smart about it but use immigration to our advantage, because the U.S. is a very attractive destination for people from all over the globe."

Morgan added, "Immigrants are not just labor, they are also consumers and that's good for business."

In their letter to Boehner, the business groups say "failure to act is not an option."

"We are united in the belief that we can and must do better for our economy and country by modernizing our immigration system. ... We cannot afford to be content and watch a dysfunctional immigration system work against our overall national interest."

Boehner has said immigration reform is unlikely to pass the House this year. The business community hopes its pressure will change that by persuading business-friendly Republicans to join Democrats pushing reform. The U.S. Chamber was instrumental in crafting the bill that passed the Senate with bipartisan support last year before stalling in the House.

Other groups that signed this week's letter include the Cabarrus Regional Chamber of Commerce along with the N.C. Chamber and the Chambers in Durham and Raleigh.

The letter was released by the U.S. Chamber and the Partnership for a New American Economy, an advocacy group of mayors and businesses that support immigration reform.

Here is the full letter:

Dear Mr. Speaker:
The undersigned 636 business organizations are encouraged by the House Republican Conference’s review of “Standards for Immigration Reform.” We support Congress and the Administration moving forward on immigration reform using these Standards as the guideposts for action this year.  
We are united in the belief that we can and must do better for our economy and country by modernizing our immigration system. Done properly, reform will deter illegal immigration, protect and complement our U.S. workforce, better respond to changing economic and demographic needs, and generate greater productivity and economic activity, while respecting family unity.
Failure to act is not an option. We cannot afford to be content and watch a dysfunctional immigration system work against our overall national interest. In short, immigration reform is an essential element of a jobs agenda and economic growth. It will add talent, innovation, investment, products, businesses, jobs, and dynamism to our economy.  
We urge legislative action to seize this opportunity to fix our dysfunctional immigration system by enacting meaningful immigration reforms this year.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The new front in the gay rights battle

In the wake of Michael Sam and a host of federal court rulings on the right side of same-sex marriage, it might be hard to remember that there are still bumps ahead for gay rights. So along comes Arizona with a moment that could tell us just how far we have to go. 

Senate Bill 1062 would allow businesses to refuse service to any customer based on the religious beliefs of the business owner. The bill passed the Arizona Senate last week. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer is mulling whether to sign it.

The bill, by the way, is unnecessary. Legal experts note that Arizona doesn't have anti-discrimination laws. A business owner already can refuse to serve homosexuals without having to claim religious justification for doing so. Also, U.S. law won't allow for some forms of discrimination - against blacks and women, for example, no matter what your state or religious beliefs say. So what's the point of the Arizona bill? To make a political statement, of course. No matter that doing so might encourage business owners to act out and discriminate.

But there are other statements being made, too. Arizona's Republican U.S. senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake, already have urged Brewer to veto. And Brewer, a staunch conservative, seems to understand that the bill already is inviting attention that Arizona doesn't want. Delaware Gov. Jack Markell said this week that if Brewer signs the legislation, the NFL should pull the 2015 Super Bowl out of the state.

Used to be those kinds of threats would be met with more resistance from governors in places like Arizona. Brewer's hesitancy is a statement in itself - an acknowledgement that the country is not really split on this issue anymore, and that even in places like Arizona, discriminating against gays is no longer a sure political winner.

The governor has until Friday to decide.

Peter St. Onge

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Yellow dog Democrats and Edward Kryn Republicans

There have long been Yellow Dog Democrats in North Carolina -- people who would vote for a yellow dog before they would vote for a Republican. Now, apparently, there are Edward Kryn Republicans -- people who will vote for someone they've never heard of over incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan.

A new poll from Public Policy Polling shows that Hagan, who seeks a second term this year, trails or is tied with all her potential Republican opponents, even though most people haven't heard of those Republicans. The poll finds Hagan tied with Kryn, 40 percent to 40 percent; she trails both Thom Tillis and Mark Harris 42-40, Greg Brannon 43-40, Heather Grant 41-39 and Ted Alexander 45-38. The same poll finds that only about one in four voters have heard of any of them other than Tillis. So a large number of people who have not heard of, say, Ted Alexander or Edward Kryn, (and so know nothing about their policy stances) say they would vote for them over Hagan.

It's not a stunning finding. A lot of people vote for the D or the R after the candidate's name rather than for the candidate. It makes sense to an extent -- if you're a far-right conservative or a far-left liberal, you'll regard almost anyone from your party as better than almost anyone from the other party. In Hagan's case, her support for Obamacare appears to be dragging her down; her approval numbers align almost perfectly with Obamacare approval numbers.

Everyone is busy and folks naturally take shortcuts to figure out whom to vote for. But what if a candidate had to do more than call themselves a Democrat or a Republican to earn your support? What if voters were invested enough that they learned about candidates' character, leadership abilities, vision and policy stances before backing them? Maybe then we wouldn't get so many dogs in public office.

-- Taylor Batten 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Will Obamacare kill jobs?

Today's Congressional Budget Office Budget Outlook on the Affordable Care Act brings a bit of bad news for both supporters and critics of Obamacare.

The bad news for supporters: The report finds that the ACA will cause a decrease in worker hours over the next decade in the United States. Specifically, the CBO predicts a 1.5 to 2 percent decrease compared to a hypothetical U.S. without Obamacare. (That's more than the .5 percent decrease the CBO estimated back in 2010.)

The new figure is bad for the economy, and not so great for President Obama and Democrats, who've said Republicans were wrong when they called Obamacare a job-killer. Today's money line, for those  Republicans: "Although CBO projects that total employment (and compensation) will increase over the coming decade, that increase will be smaller than it would have been in absence of the ACA."

But, the bad news for critics: The decrease in worker hours won't be coming from cost-cutting employers letting waves of workers go, as Republicans have long predicted. It's because workers who put off retirement or took a second job, just for the health care benefits, now have less reason to keep their jobs. Others might reduce the hours they work so that they can continue to qualify for ACA subsidies.

As the CBO explains, the reduction in hours worked over the next decade will come "almost entirely because workers will choose to supply less labor."

So is Obamacare a job killer? Not according to this report. But it'll be hard for the law's supporters to call it a victory.

Peter St. Onge

The House GOP's 2 debt limit strategies: dumb and dumber

The Washington Post reports this morning that the House GOP has settled on two strategies as Congress prepares to raise the debt ceiling later this month. The first strategy is to trade a one-year extension of the debt limit for approval of the remainder of the Keystone XL pipeline. The second is to trade the one-year extension for repeal of the Affordable Care Act's "risk corridors," which protect insurance companies by limiting the amount of money an insurance plan can lose on the health-care exchange.

Both issues, Keystone and risk corridors, are legitimate - and not just for conservatives. Many on the left and the right - not to mention the State Department - think there's not much that's objectionable about Keystone, which would carry oil from Alberta, Canada to Nebraska. (The Observer's editorial board agrees.) The "risk corridors" are, for now, a Republican-driven issue, but that could change as the public learns more about the insurance companies' safety net.

Neither issue, however, has anything to do with the debt ceiling, which is about extending the nation's borrowing authority so we can pay for what Congress has already spent.

It's not hard to predict how this plays out politically. Democrats and the White House will resist tying the debt ceiling to unrelated issues, especially the risk corridors. They'll remind Americans how Republicans drove the government shutdown over Obamacare last year before giving in to public opinion. The old narrative - Republicans as obstructionists - will become the narrative once again.

Why would Republicans risk this? They think they have political winners with Keystone and risk corridors, and they think the public understands that everything in Washington comes with give and take (see the recent $1.1 trillion budget agreement.)

The GOP may be right about the political possibilities of Keystone and risk corridors. But Americans won't want a debt limit fight. They're worn out on political spectacles. Pursuing a game of debt chicken will only get the GOP run over again.

Peter St. Onge

Monday, February 3, 2014

Roy Cooper's tightrope act

Political pundits have long said that "AG" stands not only for attorney general but also "aspiring governor." Now that North Carolina's AG Roy Cooper has all but made that official, he's tiptoeing along a high-wire between doing his taxpayer-funded job and trying to take down Republican Gov. Pat McCrory.

Cooper, a Democrat who has held his current office for 13 years, has come out publicly against North Carolina's gay marriage ban, its voting reform legislation and certain changes to abortion laws. At the same time, he says he will vigorously defend the state's laws in court.

Most recently, advocates are pressuring Cooper not to defend the state against a challenge to Amendment One, the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Cooper insists he will defend the law: "North Carolina should change its laws to allow marriage equality, and I believe basic fairness eventually will prevail," Cooper said. "However, when legal arguments exist to defend a law, it is the duty of the Office of the Attorney General under North Carolina law to make those arguments in court."

Cooper is right about his duty, but this does not sit well with gay-rights groups and many Democrats. They want Cooper to follow the lead of fellow AGs such as Mark Herring of Virginia. Herring has declared Virginia's marriage law unconstitutional and refuses to defend it.

North Carolina's gay marriage law is outdated and discriminatory. But as Cooper says, it's his job to argue in court on behalf of the state if at all possible.

Colorado's attorney general, John W. Suthers, writes in Sunday's Washington Post that Herring and other AGs have "abused the power entrusted" to them by refusing to defend their states' laws on gay marriage. It's one thing not to defend a law for which there has been an unequivocal ruling from the Supreme Court, he says. It's quite another to just pick and choose which ones to defend based on your personal politics.  

"I fear that refusing to defend unpopular or politically distasteful laws will ultimately weaken the legal and moral authority that attorneys general have earned and depend on," Suthers writes. "We will become viewed as simply one more player in a political system rather than as legal authorities in a legal system. The courts, the governments we represent and, most important, the people we serve will treat our pronouncements and arguments with skepticism and cynicism."


Cooper is doing his job by defending the gay marriage ban. But by putting up a web video last week attacking McCrory and legislative Republicans on things such as the voting rights bill and "a culture war" on minorities, Cooper gives legislative Republicans good reason to wonder how crisply he will be able to separate his political views from his arguments in court, which are diametrically opposed. 

The Observer editorial board, in an October editorial, lamented Cooper's outspokenness. "Like the Republicans he's criticized," we said, "he let ideology and ambition get in the way of what's best for North Carolina."

New campaign finance reports show that Cooper has about $1 million on hand for his next run for office. That's almost as much as McCrory, who has $1.3 million in the bank. It looks like Cooper has every intention of tiptoeing that high-wire all the way til 2016.

-- Taylor Batten 

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