Washington’s Growth Retreat: The right kills immigration reform and the left freer trade.

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WSJ, Editorial

The U.S. economy has averaged about 2.5% growth for four and a half years in what is supposedly a recovery, median household income is below where it was when the recession ended in June 2009, and job growth is mediocre. But the political class seems intent on fighting over the blame rather than trying to escape the malaise.

The latest evidence is John Boehner’s punt on immigration reform. Only days ago the House Speaker floated a set of reform principles that opened the door to a potential compromise with Democrats and the Senate. But the response from the anti-reform right was so intense that he emerged at the Capitol on Thursday to more or less declare that nothing will happen on immigration this year.

“This is an important issue in our country. It’s been kicked around forever, and it needs to be dealt with,” Mr. Boehner said. But he added that “there’s widespread doubt about whether this Administration can be trusted to enforce our laws. It’s going to be difficult to move any immigration legislation until that changes.”

He’s right about President Obama and mistrust. One price of the cavalier way the President has rewritten the Affordable Care Act is that no Republican believes he’ll follow any other law he signs. Mr. Obama’s failure to hold anyone at the IRS accountable for political targeting of conservatives has also undermined trust in his management of the National Security Agency.

But conservatives and the GOP are as responsible for the failure on immigration. The populist wing of the party has talked itself into believing the zero-sum economics that immigrants steal jobs from U.S. citizens and reduce American living standards. Neither claim is true, but Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions and the Heritage Foundation might as well share research staffs with the AFL-CIO.

So great is the House GOP fear of a talk-radio backlash that it won’t even pass smaller bills that 75% of Republicans agree on. There will be nothing to codify the legal status of children of illegal immigrants who have lived here for decades. And no expanded green cards for foreign graduates of U.S. colleges, a policy Mitt Romney endorsed. And no cleaning up the work-visa morass that has obliged U.S. farmers to hire illegals to harvest their crops.

The result of doing nothing will be a de facto “amnesty” in which 11 million illegal immigrants will continue to work using fake documents. Mr. Obama will look for ways to grant more of them legal status using executive power, and the GOP will look even more unwelcoming to minorities.

Some Republicans who do want to vote for immigration reform say they don’t want to divide the party over such a contentious issue in an election year. Better to take this up in 2015, they say. But the opponents will raise the same furor whenever it comes up, and Democrats will be less likely to compromise figuring they can use the issue to drive minority voter turnout in 2016.

So here stand Mr. Obama’s two main pro-growth priorities: Freer trade looks like it will die at the hands of Democrats beholden to Big Labor, while immigration reform is strangled by Republicans dancing to talk radio. What a display of American economic leadership.

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