CBO: Mandatory E-Verify would cost $23 billion

CongressDaily PM - April 8th, 2008

CBO Score Of Shuler Bill Erects Pay/Go Barrier In House

     CBO has placed a 10-year, $23 billion price tag on an immigration enforcement bill sponsored by Rep. Heath Shuler, D-N.C., that Republicans want to force to the House floor.
     That figure, at a minimum, sets up a major pay/go barrier for the bill's supporters.
     CBO said the bill would cause federal revenues to decrease by more than $17 billion over the same time period because employers would stop paying taxes for their undocumented employees, according to an April 4 letter from CBO Director Peter Orszag to Judiciary Chairman John Conyers and ranking member Lamar Smith.
     In a single year, CBO also said the bill would cost private-sector employers $136 million and state and local governments $68 million to comply with the bill's employment verification requirements.
     Under the bill, employers would have to verify the work eligibility of all employees within four years using the currently voluntary system run by the Homeland Security Department. Many Democrats and advocacy groups say the system is too fraught with flaws to be expanded to the nation's entire workforce.
     Democrats are hoping the CBO cost figures and a series of new immigration hearings will tamp down the growing support in their party for a Republican-led discharge petition on Shuler's bill. The petition now has 185 signatures, short of the 218 needed to force a floor vote, but supporters say conservative Democrats are wavering.
     So far, 39 Democrats who have co-sponsored Shuler's bill have not signed the discharge petition. Republicans plan to point to their inconsistency as a lack of commitment to immigration enforcement. Ten Democrats, including Shuler, have signed it.
     An aide for Rep. Paul Kanjorski, D-Pa., who was the most recent Democrat to sign the petition, was unapologetic about his decision to buck party leaders. "He supports the bill. There's nothing more to it," the aide said.
     A Democratic leadership aide said House leaders want to emphasize the normal legislative process by holding a series of immigration hearings across several committees to explore a broader immigration bill. "The Republicans' discharge petition strategy is a political maneuver, not a policy strategy," the aide said.
     Michael Steel, spokesman for Minority Leader Boehner, said the CBO cost figures are a "smokescreen" from House leaders who want to stop a bill with bipartisan support. "Surely, somewhere in the federal budget, which totals over 3 trillion dollars, the Democrats can find enough money to adequately secure the border," he said.
     Supporters of the discharge petition say CBO's numbers are out of whack. "We have questions about the numbers and figures," said a Shuler spokesman. Shuler has requested a conference call with CBO analysts to discuss their assumptions.
     For Shuler, a major complaint about the CBO analysis is that it does not counterbalance implementation costs with the costs of illegal immigration. In Shuler's state of North Carolina, for example, at least $1 billion annually goes to education and health care for illegal immigrants, the aide said.
     Several aides said "outside groups" have been asked to produce alternative cost estimates. In the past, the Heritage Foundation and the Center for Immigration Studies both have produced reports on the costs of illegal immigration.
     CBO's cost estimate also could be on the low end, particularly because the bill mandates an expensive phone option for employers to verify workers' eligibility.
     In 2005, GAO said a mandatory dial-up electronic employment verification system would cost employers and the government $11 billion annually.
     That report also said much of the cost would be borne by employers. "The business community has serious concerns with the costs associated with mandating this experimental program, particularly with all the well-documented problems and issues associated with it," said U.S. Chamber of Commerce Director of Immigration Policy Angelo Amador.    By Fawn Johnson