Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint on Wednesday blasted the sweeping immigration bill being debated in the U.S. Senate, while one of the bill's sponsors — Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona — said it would boost the nation's economic growth.
"This bill is going to cost Americans trillions of dollars," DeMint, the former GOP senator from South Carolina, told Neil Cavuto on Fox News. "It's hard to believe that anyone would trust this administration with another massive bill like Obamacare."
DeMint attacked an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office, the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress, which released an estimate on Tuesday that the legislation would reduce deficits by $197 billion from 2014 to 2023 and by $700 billion from 2024 to 2033.
The CBO estimate varied greatly from last month’s forecast from Heritage, which said that the bill would cost taxpayers $6.3 trillion over the next half century.
DeMint stood by the conservative think tank’s analysis.
"This is the trick that they used for Obamacare," he told Cavuto. "The CBO said that Obamacare would save our country money — and we know it’s going to cost us trillions of dollars.
"The people who write the bill put all the revenue in the first 10 years and all of the expenses outside the window," DeMint said.
The CBO analysis also said that the American population would increase to 10.4 million by 2023, rising to about 16 million within a decade thereafter. About 8 million illegals would initially become legalized under the bill, but that change would not affect the size of the U.S. population, the CBO said.
DeMint said this huge influx of illegals would heavily tax the nation's social structure, since many would lack a high-school education.
"We know that in America today, citizens and noncitizens, if you don't have a high-school diploma, the old idea of upward mobility doesn’t work," DeMint said. "You take a lot more from the system than you put in.
"That's the case with these illegal immigrants: They have less than a high-school education. The idea that they’re going to improve our economy and create jobs for Americans, it just doesn’t work."
For his part, Flake — an Arizona Republican who is a member of the bipartisan "Gang of Eight" senators who proposed the reform bill in April — reiterated the CBO's projected cost savings and estimates of strong growth in the nation's economy over time.
"Those estimates are only as good as the assumptions that you put in them," Flake told Cavuto in a separate interview. "I would argue, in this case, that the assumptions are pretty correct: When you bring people out of the shadows to participate more in the economy, and then you have a system that actually works, then we’ll be better off."
As for DeMint's claim that immigrants would not be able to move up the economic ladder because of educational issues, Flake said, "we have a lot of history to dispute that.
"Over time, those who start out at low-wage jobs typically move up to higher-wage jobs," he added.
The senator noted that the legislation contained provisions to create jobs in the STEM professions — science, technology, engineering, and mathematics — "and it allows them to stay in the country and create jobs. It’s not just on the low-skilled side that would benefit the economy."
Flake also denied criticisms by DeMint and other Republicans that the legislation lacked strong measures for increased border security.
Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the 2008 GOP presidential candidate, is also a Gang of Eight member.
"None of us from Arizona would dare put border security second or third," Flake told Cavuto. "It has to remain paramount.
"We have a situation where, as Arizonans, we pay a disproportionate burden of the federal government’s failure to secure the border.
"We’re making sure we have good border security," he added. "It’s about to get better with some amendments coming forward — and I just reject the notion that this bill isn’t tough on border enforcement."
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