It is expected that the House is where the largest tussle will occur over immigration reform. But senators began getting their licks in shortly after an immigration bill passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee this week.

At the same time, House Judiciary Committee hearings proceeded on an agriculture guest-worker program. Overseen by Virginia Rep. Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the committee, the guest-worker bill could be a fallback for agriculture should a comprehensive reform bill fail in the House.

Full agriculture labor coverage here.

On May 22, sandwiched between farm bill amendments on the Senate floor, lawmakers began to stake out their reform positions.

The importance of immigrants to the U.S. economy was addressed by Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran. Moran looked back to the summer of 2011 when “we’d had 30 straight months of unemployment above 8 percent. I decided it was important to work on legislation to jump-start the economy.”

At the time, said Moran, “nearly all” of the new, net jobs created since 1980 had been created by companies less than five years old. A jobs bill was written to help entrepreneurs continue that trend. Part of that effort “provided new opportunities for highly-educated and entrepreneurial immigrants to stay in the United States…

“I didn’t intend to write an immigration bill. … After reviewing the academic and economic data, it became clear that any strategy to create American jobs must include highly-skilled and entrepreneurial immigrants.”

With that set-up, Moran said the bill just passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, “recognizes the importance” of such immigrants.  “The legislation creates new visas for immigrant entrepreneurs and awards points for a merit-based visa. … Yet, this bill could be improved significantly to reflect more accurately how new businesses grow and hire workers. Done right, an entrepreneurs visa has the potential to create hundreds of thousands of needed jobs for Americans.”

Louisiana Sen. David Vitter was much more strident in his warnings about “so-called” immigration reform proposals. Vitter’s “biggest and most fundamental concern” is that the bill headed to the Senate floor “repeats the mistakes of the past because, at its core, its amnesty now and enforcement later – and maybe never. We’ve tried that model before. We’ve tried it several times before and it’s never worked.”

Like others opposed to the legislation, Vitter brought up the 1986 immigration overhaul signed by President Reagan. That legislation provided “amnesty immediately, the second the bill was signed into law. That was a powerful message to invite more and more illegal crossings across the border. … The promises of enforcement never fully materialized.”

That led to a quadrupling of the problem, said Vitter. The original three million illegal immigrants “were mostly made legal…but today, we have 11 to 12 million illegal immigrants – some think more.”

Other Vitter concerns included proper border security, the possibility of the sudden influx of workers depressing wages, and the cost of government programs once the illegal immigrants are eligible to sign up. “The authors of this bill have been very, very clever. They saw the cost issue coming and devised a bill so that the big costs are outside the 10 year budget window. … That’s important because (the Congressional Budget Office) scores legislation primarily on its impact on taxes and spending in the first 10 years. So, the authors were very careful … in devising a bill that would look okay in the first 10 years. But after that 10-year window, the costs explode.”

Vitter equated the CBO scoring of “Obamacare” with the immigration proposals. “This is exactly the same approach … to push many of the costs to the out years beyond the initial scoring window.”

A study by the Heritage Foundation claims the immigration bill would actually cost the nation $6.3 trillion. However, Vitter will surely be dinged or ignored by proponents of the legislation for naming only one author of the study. A second author, Jason Richwine, recently resigned from the conservative think-tank when an extremely controversial paper he’d written, claiming certain races’ IQ levels are subpar, surfaced.