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Boehner faces hard choice
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Speaker John Boehner talks a good game about pushing immigration reform.
"We get elected to make choices," Boehner said. "We get elected to solve problems, and it's remarkable to me how many of my colleagues just don't want to. ... They'll take the path of least resistance."
It's time for Boehner to follow his own advice. Yes, passing an immigration overhaul will be difficult. Yes, several dozen members of his own caucus adamantly oppose the whole idea and even threaten to depose the Speaker if he forces them to vote.
But Boehner said it best: Governing is about making choices, about solving problems. And a badly broken system -- 11 million immigrants living here without papers, while industries from agriculture to high-tech plead for more workers -- is a problem that demands a solution.
It's been almost a year since the Senate passed a comprehensive reform package with bipartisan support, and as President Obama recently noted, only a "very narrow window" is left this year for legislative action. "The closer we get to the midterm elections, the harder it is to get things done around here."
Actually, the president was understating the urgency. If this Congress fails to act, the next one would have to start all over in January. And since conservative Republicans will probably have more power after the elections, Sen. Charles Schumer of New York is right in saying that if immigration fails this summer, "it will not pass until 2017 at the earliest."
That would be a crime -- a far more serious crime than the one committed by immigrants who crossed the border illegally in search of a better life.
There are at least three reasons why Boehner should make the right choice by allowing the House to vote on a reform package. The first is morality.
Then there's economics. The myth perpetrated by opponents of immigration -- that newcomers take jobs from Americans -- is totally wrong. Immigrants create jobs, pay taxes and contribute enormously to the entrepreneurial spirit that conservatives profess to value so highly.
A leading Republican economist, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, estimates that an immigration reform bill would boost the national growth rate by close to a full percentage point per year over 10 years and reduce the deficit by nearly $3 trillion.
If morality and economics are not enough, there's always political self-interest. When Reagan was elected in 1980, the voting population was 88 percent white; by 2016, that rate will drop below 70 percent. Obama won more than seven out of 10 Hispanic and Asian votes in 2012.
It would be one thing if the speaker had to buck a unified party completely opposed to reform. But he doesn't. In a new Politico poll, 71 percent of all voters, including 64 percent of Republicans, backed "sweeping change to immigration laws."
As the Speaker put it, lawmakers "get elected to make choices." His choice should be clear.
Steve and Cokie Roberts can be contacted by email at