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Buffett, Gates, and Adelson: Billionaires prod Congress on immigration reform

Billionaires Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, and Sheldon Adelson have taken Congress to task for failure to enact immigration reform. 

Together, they’re worth a combined $184.3 billion – enough to cover the VA’s budget for more than a year.

So when Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, and Sheldon Adelson speak out on one of the most pressing social and political issues of the day – immigration – people tend to listen.

Whether or not that includes members of Congress is another matter, even though Messrs. Buffett, Gates, and Adelson all have been campaign donors. Lawmakers are far from any agreement on immigration reform, and they’re now fighting over what to do about thousands of migrant children streaming illegally into the US.

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Writing in The New York Times this week, the three men used themselves as an example of the kind of bipartisan compromise needed to address immigration.

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“The three of us vary in our politics and would differ also in our preferences about the details of an immigration reform bill,” they wrote. “But we could without a doubt come together to draft a bill acceptable to each of us.”

“You don’t have to agree on everything in order to cooperate on matters about which you are reasonably close to agreement,” they wrote, casting an obvious eye toward a Congress that seems more intent on scoring political points than on accomplishing anything of lasting value. “It’s time that this brand of thinking finds its way to Washington.”

Last year, the Senate passed comprehensive immigration reform with strong bipartisan support (68-32), but the bill has languished in the Republican-led House. 

“Whatever the precise provisions of a law, it’s time for the House to draft and pass a bill that reflects both our country’s humanity and its self-interest,” Buffett, Gates, and Adelson instructed. “Differences with the Senate should be hammered out by members of a conference committee, committed to a deal.”

Recently, another powerful wealthy businessman weighed in along similar lines.

“I don’t believe that people come to America to sit on their hands,” Rupert Murdoch wrote in The Wall Street Journal (which he owns). “The vast majority of America’s immigrants are hardworking, family-minded individuals with strong values.”

As for this week’s three news-making billionaires, Bloomberg News points out their political differences:

Adelson, 80, and his wife, Miriam, have been major donors to Republican candidates for years. They pumped $15 million into a super-political action committee backing former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign in 2012, according to data compiled by the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics. They later gave $20 million to the super-PAC supporting the eventual Republican nominee, Mitt Romney.

Buffett, 83, has given money largely to Democrats over the years, including more than $200,000 to Obama and the Democratic National Committee since Obama first ran for president, according to Federal Election Commission records. He has also cultivated relationships with Republicans as he encouraged compromise on political issues.

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Gates, 58, has donated money to members of both parties and a variety of causes, including efforts to support gay marriage.

But when it comes to the need for immigration reform, Buffett, Gates, and Adelson set such differences aside.

“A Congress that does nothing about these problems is extending an irrational policy by default; that is, if lawmakers don’t act to change it, it stays the way it is, irrational,” they wrote. “The current stalemate – in which greater pride is attached to thwarting the opposition than to advancing the nation’s interests – is depressing to most Americans and virtually all of its business managers. The impasse certainly depresses the three of us.”

They concluded their New York Times op-ed with a reminder that lawmakers in Washington are the political hired help:

“It’s time for 535 of America’s citizens [members of the US House and Senate] to remember what they owe to the 318 million who employ them.”