WASHINGTON — It would be an understatement to say Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat who often favors higher taxes, and Grover Norquist, America’s most famous anti-tax crusader, disagree on how to grow the economy.
But there Norquist was on Tuesday morning, Klobuchar’s invited guest at a Joint Economic Committee hearing focused on immigration reform. And in this case, he was a friendly witness.
Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform, has been a big supporter of immigration reform proposals in the past, and he’s spoken in favor of the immigration bill currently under consideration in the Senate.
That legislation would provide legal status to the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the United States, expand visa access for foreign workers and beef up boarder security. But Tuesday’s hearing was decidedly light on details: Rather than digging into the guts of an 800-page bill, Klobuchar, Norquist and others focused mostly on the macro-economic benefits of immigration reform for the United States.
“Our economy is improving, the private sector is adding jobs and the housing market is getting stronger,” Klobuchar said. “But more needs to be done, and comprehensive immigration reform is one of the pillars which will help us to build this strong economy.”
Norquist said the United States should use immigration reform to gain an economic leg up over countries where it’s less of a priority.
“As the United States became the most immigrant-friendly, welcoming nation in the world, we’ve also become the richest, most prosperous, most stable nation in the world,” he said. “It’s one of our competitive advantages that we do immigration better than anyone else in the world.”
He warned against closing the door to immigrants, pointing to the ill economic effects Arizona suffered after passing controversial illegal immigration laws. Immigrants fled the state and helped boost the economy in Arizona’s more welcoming neighbors, Norquist said.
Generally, Norquist said immigration reform gives lawmakers the chance to work together to improve the economy.
“It is a tremendous opportunity for bipartisan cooperation in creating more economic growth,” he said.
‘They listen to him, and he’s very strong on this’
The committee pitched fairly friendly questions to Norquist and a second witness, a public policy professor from Georgetown University. Klobuchar asked about immigration’s impact on the agriculture industry, for example, and Minnesota Republican Rep. Erik Paulsen wanted to know about ways the United States could entice more science, technology, engineering and mathematics workers.
What little opposition Norquist felt came from the lawmakers who traditionally agree with him the most, conservative Republicans who are uncomfortable with plans to provide citizenship the country’s undocumented immigrants. Mississippi Republican Sen. Roger Wicker seemed perplexed that Norquist would criticize Arizona’s law, and asked him about the relative impacts of both legal and illegal immigration on the economy.
“Would it be positive or negative if we didn’t have those 12 million illegal immigrants?” he asked.
“GDP would be smaller,” Norquist responded.
There was no such tension between Norquist and the panel’s pro-immigration reform lawmakers, Klobuchar among them. After the hearing, Klobuchar said she invited Norquist to testify to the committee so its House members could hear about his support for immigration reform (Norquist has testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the chamber’s immigration bill, but the House has yet to dig into the issue).
“I wanted them to hear about our bill, but also I mostly wanted them to hear from him,” Klobuchar said. “They listen to him, and he’s very strong on this.”
Devin Henry can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @dhenry