U.S. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) previewed the coming fight over immigration reform in front of dozens of New York’s most influential conservatives Monday night, clashing with a panel of conservative intellectuals who questioned his hardline stance.
The climax of Monday’s meeting came when King, a tea party favourite, took the stage in the back room of midtown’s Grand Hyatt hotel. He was subsequently questioned by a panel that included Forbes’ John Tamny, the Washington Examiner’s David Freddoso, and the New York Post’s Robert George.
King, who has argued for restraint on immigration reform in the wake of the Boston Marathon attacks, outlined his preferred path on immigration reform — his bill, the New Illegal Deduction Elimination (New IDEA) Act, which he reintroduced in March.
King said that he would institute some kind of “point system” for immigrants, to “score” people by age, education, earning capability, language skills, and capital. He also praised the E-Verify system, an online tool that checks workers’ immigration status.
At that point, Tamny jumped in to confront King.
“I’ve heard tonight about E-Verify. I’ve heard about not giving immigrants ‘amnesty.’ I’ve heard about the federal government controlling more who comes across our border. And I don’t see anything that’s remotely small government about any of these three things,” Tamny said.
“It surprises me that Republicans would talk this way. They’re supposed to be the party of opportunity. But this seems to be a situation where they want to do the reverse and expand the power of government and expand the process of the government pushing people across the border.”
The audience gave a spattering of applause and groans to Tamny’s comments, while King offered a defence of the proposals as conservative ideas. He said that he is not trying to expand the power of agencies like the IRS, who, under his ideal proposal, would audit companies without warning to verify that their workers were legal.
“It doesn’t accelerate enforcement,” King said. “It just gets people to comply with the law, because they never know when it’s coming. I’ve been audited a number of times.”
That statement made Tamny lean back in his chair and, looking exasperated, roll his eyes. The Post’s George jumped in, questioning why King would want to give the IRS more power to inflict “fear” on businesses.
“The thought that you want to give an enhanced fear of the IRS to businesses,” George said. “Whatever we’re doing here seems to be giving more power to the government to check in on businesses.”
Added Tamny: “That’s exactly what I think — enhanced power for the IRS or enhanced power for the government to rip people out of jobs and move them across, that sounds like enhancing government power, not shrinking it, like Republicans are supposed to do.”
But while Tamny and George lamented the “big government” solutions currently being proposed in the immigration debate, the biggest applause of the night came for Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) when he was asked about the immigration debate.
“I don’t think we need any new bills on immigration,” he said, to raucous cheers, adding that Congress should pass a bill to make English the official language of the country. “I think we need to secure the border before anything else matters.”
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