Democrats are weighing moving immigration reform to help finance Biden’s infrastructure plans without GOP support

senator tim kaine
Senator Tim Kaine, D-Va., speaks during a hearing, with the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, on the Covid-19 response, on Capitol Hill on March 18, 2021.

  • Tim Kaine said Democrats could potentially include immigration reform provisions to pay for infrastructure.
  • “That could be a very legitimate way to look at trying to find a balanced package,” he said.
  • Some immigration provisions, however, could run into trouble given strict rules governing reconciliation.
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Democrats are weighing tucking immigration reform into a large infrastructure package using reconciliation this summer, a step that could significantly expand the scope of a Democratic-only package.

Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia said that Democrats were interested in fully financing Biden’s $4 trillion infrastructure plans instead of deficit-spending, meaning the cost of the plan is added onto the national debt.

“Anytime there’s been a CBO examination on immigration reform, it produces a significant increase in the GDP without really costing much money,” he told Insider, referring to budgetary analyses produced by the Congressional Budget Office.

He went on: “So that may not be a traditional pay-for but if we feel like there’s something we could do within a reconciliation vehicle that could produce significant economic growth.. that could be a very legitimate way to look at trying to find a balanced package.”

Reconciliation is a legislative tactic that requires only a simple majority for bills related to government spending. It’s the same method Democrats used to muscle through the $1.9 trillion stimulus law in March.

Earlier this year, House Democrats passed two measures to set up a legal path to citizenship for farm workers and young immigrants brought to the US as children illegally. Neither has cleared the Democratic-controlled Senate, as it doesn’t have the 10 Republican votes needed to cross the 60-vote filibuster threshold.

Progressive Democrats in the House, along with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, back a party-line approach to immigration reform, Roll Call reported.

Kaine also told reporters that “big picture” immigration ideas were discussed among the Senate Democrats attending a major infrastructure strategy meeting late on Wednesday.

Experts say some immigration provisions could run into trouble with reconciliation’s main arbiter because not all would be directly related to the federal budget – a key rule of the process.

“Immigration reform, like the 2013 Gang of Eight bill for example, definitely has a CBO score,” Zach Moller, a budget expert at the liberal-leaning organization Third Way, told Insider. “But not all provisions will have a budget score and those that have savings or costs may run into issues if the parliamentarian rules the effects are ‘merely incidental’ to the underlying policy.”

Moller pointed to the 2013 immigration reform plan which CBO projected would have saved $175 billion over a decade. Those negotiations ultimately collapsed due to conservative attacks.

For now, Democrats are taking a two-pronged approach to the infrastructure discussions. They are still negotiating with Republicans on a skinny bill while setting the stage to approve a massive package without GOP support in several months.

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A student-loan forgiveness program for public-service workers has a 98% denial rate. 56 Democrats say it’s time for Biden to fix it.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).

  • 56 Democrats urged Education Sec. Miguel Cardona to fix the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.
  • The letter cited its high denial rate, with fewer than 2.5% of eligible applicants being approved.
  • Biden campaigned on fixing the program to give public service workers needed relief.
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President Joe Biden campaigned on reforming the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, which he – along with many lawmakers in past years – said is failing borrowers due to its low approval rate.

His campaign website said: “Biden will see to it that the existing Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program is fixed, simplified, and actually helps teachers.”

On Wednesday, 56 Democratic lawmakers urged Biden to follow through on his promise.

Senate and House Democrats, led by Sens. Tim Kaine of Virginia, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, and Rep. John Sarbanes of Maryland, wrote a letter to Biden’s Education Secretary Miguel Cardona stressing the need to improve the PSLF program to give public servants the loan forgiveness they deserve.

The PSLF program allows government and nonprofit employees with federally backed student loans to apply for loan forgiveness after proof of 120 monthly payments under a qualifying repayment plan, but 98% of all borrowers from the general public have been rejected from the program.

“After the first round of forgiveness initially became available to PSLF borrowers more than three years ago, approval rates for the program have remained below 2.5%,” the letter said. “The program has been beset by numerous ‘donut holes’ that disqualify certain types of loans, repayment plans and the payments themselves, leading to extraordinary confusion and distrust of the PSLF program and, by extension, the federal government.”

The lawmakers urged Cardona to waive barriers in PSLF, including to:

  • Expand the definition of an “eligible loan” to include all federal student loans;
  • Make all repayment plans eligible for PSLF;
  • Waive the restriction that requires a borrower to be in public service at the time of loan forgiveness;
  • And establish data-sharing agreements with the Dept. of Defense and Office of Personnel management to automatically identify public service workers with outstanding student debt.

The letter also called for extensive communication from the Education Department to borrowers to ensure they are aware of any changes that might impact loan forgiveness.

In past weeks, lawmakers from both parties have introduced legislation to reform the PSLF program. Last week, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire introduced the Recognizing Military Service in Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Act, which allows service members who deferred their student loan payments while deployed to count that period of time toward their PSLF progress.

This followed a a Government Accountability Office report that found that 287 Dept. of Defense personnel had received loan forgiveness as of January 2020, while 5,180, or 94% of DOD borrowers, were denied. Sen. Elizabeth Warren released a statement calling the findings, and PSLF, “nothing short of a disaster.”

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was sued multiple times over the program’s high denial rate.

Sarbanes said on Twitter: “We must ensure that America’s teachers, social workers, public defenders, service members and community health care workers – along with many other public servants – receive the student loan forgiveness they have earned.”

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