"Billions and billions."
Where is Carl Sagan when we need him to provide the proper intonation?
Billions — $200 billion — in fact, is what the Congressional Budget Office says would be shaved off the federal deficit in 10 years with passage of the immigration reform bill gaining steam in the Senate. Look 20 years down the line and the CBO sees savings of $700 billion.
Increased productivity. Increased taxable income. More economic contributors emerging from the shadows.
Quickly, opponents jumped on the numbers, saying they are too rosey. Let this be said: Even if the CBO projections are 20 percent off, 50 percent off, 80 percent off — the savings are still "billions and billions."
Sadly, and not unexpectedly, Senate negotiators have been forced into concessions to make the investment in new citizens much less fruitful.
The key concession: $30 billion more over the next 10 years for border security. This includes 20,000 new agents — a doubling of today's force — and 18 new unmanned drones.
Most dubiously, it involves 700 additional miles of fencing. People on the border know that though some places can be fenced, some are as unfenceable as the Milky Way, particularly among the Rio Grande's cliffs and chasms.
That doesn't matter to many whose fears about illegal immigration are myth- and hysteria-based. They never met a fence they didn't like, and wouldn't blink to spend the billions to make it triple-layer.
They think that the nation spends too little on border security now. Truth: The federal tab for border security is $18 billion a year, more than all law enforcement agencies combined.
Truth: Illegal immigration has dramatically slowed, with more arrests, more deportation, and fewer border crossings.
And so even a Republican like South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham shakes his head at what he calls a "border surge."
He says, "We have militarized our border almost."
"Militarized." Did he say the magic word needed to pass this sucker?
Proponents of the so-called Gang of Eight bill say such a concession may be necessary to have any hope at all in the tea party-controlled House.
Hard-right Senate fence-sitters (no pun meant) Republicans Bob Corker of Tennessee and John Hoeven of North Dakota proposed the hyper costly security splurge. Whatever happened to fiscal conservatism, senators?
Ah, forget that when it comes down to any word with "military" as a root.
We have seen time and time again, since Reagan's historic shift of spending from domestic programs to arms, and through the off-budget funding of two wars under Bush-Cheney (while cutting taxes), that some people have never seen a defense-tinted spending bill they would oppose.
Dwight Eisenhower wasn't talking about military readiness when he said, "Every dollar uselessly spent on military mechanisms decreases our total strength and, therefore, our security." He was talking about all else sacrificed in that spending's wake.
Nonetheless, he knew how best to appeal to those who would never spend a dime otherwise, even to bring America into the 20th century.
When it came to building the nation's interstate system, Eisenhower winked at what was coined the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act of 1956. "Defense"? Well, of course; it was all about, um, transporting troops, not families in station wagons to favorite vacation spots.
Yes, maybe the only way to get the mad hatters aboard in Washington will be to make these very absurd concessions. Borrowing from Ike, call this bill the Border Militarization De-Fence Act, and throw $30 billion down the rat hole.
According to the CBO, we'd still save billions and billions.
Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.