Obama says time for excuses on immigration is over

WASHINGTON — Declaring ‘‘the time for excuses is over,’’ President Obama is trumpeting the economic benefits of an immigration overhaul, arguing that a bipartisan bill picking up steam in the Senate would put the nation’s loathed deficits and fragile entitlements on better footing.

A recent analysis from the Congressional Budget Office, lawmakers’ nonpartisan scorekeeper, was Exhibit A in Obama’s weekly radio and Internet address Saturday. The report shows deficits would fall nearly $1 trillion over two decades after the bill becomes law.

What’s more, Obama said, the influx of immigrant-driven investment, technology, and businesses would give the economy a 5 percent boost.


‘‘This bipartisan, common-sense bill will help the middle class grow our economy and shrink our deficits, by making sure that every worker in America plays by the same set of rules and pays taxes like everyone else,’’ he said.

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Confidence that the overhaul could pass the Senate by impressive margins is growing, and leaders scheduled a test vote on the bill for Monday, with a final vote expected by the end of next week. Although the heart of the bill is a 13-year pathway to citizenship for millions living in the United States illegally, it was a military-style surge to US-Mexican border security, added this week to placate wary Republicans, that was credited for giving the bill a much-needed boost.

Obama didn’t specifically address the border amendment, but he did note that the bill ‘‘would continue to strengthen security at our borders.’’ Despite concerns from some Democrats that the security provisions — 20,000 new agents, 350 miles of new fencing, 18 new unmanned drones — are excessive, Obama spokesman Jay Carney said Friday it would constitute a ‘‘breakthrough’’ that the White House applauded.

‘‘The bill isn’t perfect. It’s a compromise,’’ Obama said, reprising a line he’s used throughout the process when Democrats have complained that the bill has become too conservative. ‘‘But it’s consistent with the principles that I and others have laid out.’’

In the Republican address, Representative John Kline of Minnesota said Obama must show leadership to avoid an impending hike on student loan interest rates. He said it’s fortunate that Obama and House Republicans agree on the issue and have proposed plans that would tie interest rates to the market. He accused Senate Democrats of blocking each plan.


‘‘If I didn’t know any better, I would say they are content to let rates double,’’ Kline said. ‘‘This eleventh-hour scrambling is a perfect demonstration of why we need to take the politics out of student loans once and for all.’’

As a serious politician, Franken has the last laugh

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Al Franken barely made it into the Senate the first time, squeaking by with 312 votes after months of recounts and legal skirmishes that left Minnesota Republicans salivating at the prospect of snatching the seat back from the former ‘‘Saturday Night Live’’ star in 2014.

So far, that’s not playing out according to plan.

Four years into his term, Franken barely figures into the GOP’s calculations for trying to wrest control of the Senate from Democrats. Republicans don’t consider him a top target for defeat, and they haven’t found a strong challenger in the Democratic-leaning state.

Should a competitive race not materialize, Democrats say much, if not all, of the credit should go to Franken himself.


To solidify his then-shaky standing, Franken employed a disciplined strategy that started in 2009 when he was declared the victor of a three-way race in which he won less than 42 percent of the vote. Back then, he spoke of not wanting to ‘‘waste this chance’’ and made repeated promises to keep his head down and do the work.

Senator Al Franken.

He has largely stuck to that vow, avoiding the national spotlight. He rarely talks to the Washington press corps, has shed his comedic persona, and focused on policy, working to be taken seriously.

‘‘People have seen that I did what I said I would do. I came to Washington, I put my shoulder to the wheel and I did the work,’’ Franken said in a recent interview, expressing optimism that he will be reelected. He punted on the question of whether he’d seek a more prominent national voice in a second term, saying: ‘‘I’m more worried about what I’m working on tomorrow.’’

The midterm congressional elections are more than a year away. But Republicans already are going after vulnerable Democrats in their quest to gain the six seats they need to return to Senate power. They’re largely focusing on vulnerable Democrats in Republican-tilting states: Louisiana, North Carolina, Alaska, and Arkansas, as well as swing and conservative states where Democrats are retiring, like Iowa, South Dakota, West Virginia, and Montana.

Minnesota GOP Chairman Keith Downey acknowledged that, because of the tight 2008 margin, Republicans initially assumed Franken would be easy to beat in 2014. ‘‘People in politics always make too many assumptions about the future, but that was certainly the perspective,’’ he said.

Today, Downey argues that while the GOP’s job may be harder, Franken still can be overtaken because his support is soft.

Minnesota isn’t an easy place for Republicans to win these days, given its deep history of electing Democrats and the state GOP’s current woes: the debt-plagued party hasn’t won a statewide race since 2006. But Franken’s standing — more than 50 percent of those polled last fall by the Minneapolis Star Tribune approved of the job he’s doing — and fairly weak GOP candidates make it even tougher.