The ACA and the Dream Act: Learning Legislative Lessons - by Greer Clem

Last night, Trump tweeted, "Congress now has 6 months to legalize DACA (something the Obama administration was unable to do). If they can't, I will revisit this issue!" Demanding that legislation be passed, Trump has put a timer on a legal issue that has failed to reach legislative compromise for the past two decades. What was particularly dangerous about Trump's decision was that it evidently came from a place of little to no background. It should come as no surprise that Trump officials "privately raised concerns as late as one hour before the announcement about Trump's understanding of the effects of rescinding DACA." Trump, with little comprehension of the issue and even less understanding of the legislative process, has created a dire situation and given rise to another opportunity for the Republican majority of Congress to show just how heartless they can be. The Skinny Repeal healthcare disaster should serve as an important lesson as we prepare to defend DACA and propose legislation over the next six months. 

There are some key differences between healthcare and DACA. Yes, Republicans wanted to put an end to Obamacare because of the name itself (anything stamped with Obama's signature has to go), but slashing the ACA would have provided huge budgetary cuts to the government, which would appease the Republican base and increase capabilities to cut taxes for the rich, re-allocate government funds to things like border security (the wall), military spending (paying for more border patrol), you know, all the things that get Trump supporters hot. So you could see how, from a wealth-based, fiscal conservative point of view, one could have justified repealing the ACA in their head. I'm not saying there is any justification for taking healthcare away from millions of people - I'm just saying there were financial incentives.

Rolling back DACA, on the other hand, makes no economic sense. 97% of Dreamers are either in school or in the workforce; a far more productive majority than the overall population. A coalition of business leaders protesting the end of DACA noted that "at least 72 percent of the top 25 Fortune 500 companies count DACA recipients among their employees." What's more, if workforce turnover was required to replace all of these employees, it would cost the economy at least $6.3 billion. That is the opposite of economic incentives; it makes no fiscal sense and is purely cruel and racist in practice. 

In a better world, we could rely on this lack of financial incentive to motivate congressional Republicans to come to a legislative compromise. Unfortunately, we lived through Skinny Repeal attempts, so we know better.  Republicans pushed Skinny Repeal through the House with little to no debate and tried to pass it on the Senate floor in the middle of the night. With Mitch McConnell at the helm of the Senate and knowing they were willing to determine an enormous portion of the national budget in secret, why should we have faith that they will act more honorably on a subject they care even less about? The Dream Act has had close calls similar to Skinny Repeal, also making it through the House before dying on the Senate floor. And that was a much kinder Senate. 

In short, we have learned a great deal about what it takes to get this Senate to listen. It takes thousands of phone calls, office protests, electoral threats, and a few last minute saviors just to keep the Senate beholden to its constituents. That should not be the case, but here we are, and we should learn from the ACA and prepare to double our efforts for the Dream Act. The bright side is there has been widespread bipartisan support for some version of the Act in the past, so a compromise that legislatively offers some protection to Dreamers is not impossible. However, we know that in McConnell's senate, reason and morality have little meaning. With Obamacare, congressional Republicans managed to push aside their remaining morality in favor of economic cuts. With the Dream Act, there is no economic incentive that they care about, and yet we cannot rely on their morality. We have to therefore translate this into economic terms and electoral pressure that they will respond to. More importantly, we have to utilize the millions of voices crying out in protest and harness that energy into action. America is made of Dreamers, and that fact is something we will not allow Republicans to devalue.  

Greer Clem