A Warm Welcome to Marc Ambinder
Questions for Dick Armey

Ummm... Scale Please? Costs and Benefits of the Immigration Bill to American Taxpayers Are Small

The CBO estimates that the Bush immigration bill would benefit American taxpayers by raising revenues by about $16 per person per year. But extra entitlement spending on newly-legalized immigrants would cost $7 per person per year, and the extra border security costs the bill currently mandates would amount to about $14 a year, for a net minus of $5 per person per year. That's in a federal budget that will average about $10,000 per person per year: it's as close to a zero as exists in budgetland.

This conclusion by Peter Orszag's fiscal legionaries is in striking contradiction to claims by, say, Heritage's Robert Rector, whom Phyllis Schlafly quotes as saying that the bill would cost American taxpayers $900 per person per year.

This conclusion is also in striking contradiction to the tone of June Kronholz of the Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire item:

Washington Wire: CBO Calculates Costs of Immigration Bill: June Kronholz reports on the immigration bill’s price tag: The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the immigration bill now before the Senate will bring in $14.6 billion in revenue in its first four years, and $48.3 billion over its first decade. But it adds that the bill, as it’s now written, could increase federal spending by $66.1 billion between 2008 and 2017. Revenue would largely come from income and Social Security taxes paid by immigrants who gain legal status under the bill and would no longer work off the books, and by guestworkers. But refundable tax credits available to low-income workers would cost $13.7 billion over the next decade, Medicaid would cost $3.1 billion and food stamps would cost $1.8 billion, the CBO estimates.

The hit is even bigger — $43.4 billion over 10 years — when it comes to paying for the legalization program and enhancing border security, as the bill requires. Those costs include more workers at the departments of Homeland Security, Labor and Justice. Unmanned aerial vehicles to patrol the border would cost $454 million over 10 years. And at $30 each, Social Security cards would cost about $310 million, the CBO says.

No federal budget or spending or tax story, however short, should ever be printed without making the appropriate scale comparisons. This iso--or ought to be--the iron law of budget reporting.