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

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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. Anna Moneymaker-Pool/Getty Images
  • 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.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

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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