Wanted: More Reporting on K Street's Influence

By Jerry Kammer and Jerry Kammer on April 26, 2013

The Hill, the Capitol Hill newspaper, has noted in an editorial that the new immigration reform bill was produced by a "bipartisan group of eight senators [who claim it] will both secure the border and create a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants." The paper said that accomplishment "follows months of difficult negotiations in which the Gang of Eight sought to address weaknesses that have killed prior immigration bills."

True enough, as far as it goes. But there has been little reporting on efforts to shape the bill for purely commercial purposes. The public needs to understand what is being done along the axis of influence that ties K Street and Capitol Hill. There, dozens of lobbyists are representing the interests of a myriad of employers who want to shape the bill to suit their purposes. They also perform the complementary duty of raising money for the politicians whose opinions they seek to shape — and for whom many of the lobbyists previously worked.

The one notable exception — at least as far as I know — has been at the Washington Post. There reporter Peter Wallsten and his colleagues have done excellent work — including this story from April 16 — probing the work of Facebook and other tech companies to shape the reform bill's language regarding the H-1B visas intended for highly skilled workers.

Nevertheless, the broad story of the H-1B political-industrial complex has been badly under-covered in the press. But you know its outlines.

The companies say that in order to survive in a world of relentless competition they need access to more of "the best and the brightest" from around the world. As the Post noted, they are lavishing millions on lobbyists to press their case for more H-1B visas.

Meanwhile, the effort to represent the interests of Americans who are displaced by H-1B workers remains pitifully underfunded and poorly organized. When there's a mismatch like that in the Washington influence game, we are reminded that while the meek may one day inherit the earth, on K Street they're nobodies and on Capitol Hill they're screwed.

One strong advocate of American high tech workers is Ron Hira, an associate professor of public policy at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Testifying Monday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Hira expressed astonishment at the industry's public relations success in selling the notion that H-1B visas are going only to the best and the brightest.

Said Hira: "It's kind of baffling to me that the high-tech industry ... puts up the poster child of someone who graduates from MIT and can't stay in the United States", when actually what the industry is pressing for is "importing the cheaper workers at the lower levels" of technical knowledge.

Whether American employers tell Congress they must have access to millions of unskilled workers or hundreds of thousands of workers with a degree in computer science, it's mostly about cheap labor.