To salvage some sort of positive news from the fiscal cliff deal, in which taxes went up but spending didn’t go down, it was said that the real winner was George W. Bush—with 98 percent of his tax cuts having been made permanent. If that’s the case, then Bush 43 is winning again. This time, on immigration.

Rising Republican star Sen. Marco Rubio revealed the basic outline of his stepwise plan to reform immigration law. The central question of any such proposal, of course, is how it deals with the 12 million or so undocumented workers who live here illegally: if not deport them, what then?

Rubio’s plan, according to a Wall Street Journal interview, is as follows:

The special regime he envisions is a form of temporary limbo. “Assuming they haven’t violated any of the conditions of that status,” he says, the newly legalized person could apply for permanent residency, possibly leading to citizenship, after some years—but Mr. Rubio doesn’t specify how many years.

If that sounds familiar, it should. It was a central element of the Bush plan and its McCain-Kennedy congressional vehicle. The Weekly Standard’s Fred Barnes wrote of the plan in 2006:

Earned citizenship would permit the 12 million immigrants living illegally in the Unites States to apply for citizenship. They would be required to work for six years, commit no crimes, pay back taxes, and learn English. Then and only then could they get in line to become citizens, a process that takes five years.

Fast forward to last year’s presidential campaign, and you find former Gov. Mitt Romney employing the same sort of rhetoric: secure the border first; let those here illegally come out of the shadows and apply for legal residence or citizenship; and send them to the “back of the line.”

What we’ve got here, then, is the nonrestrictionist Republican line on immigration since the mid-Aughts.

For the record, I happen to favor it. It’s realistic, humane, and mindful of the rule of law. But there’s nothing particularly new or creative about it. And if it’s indicative of the kind of policy entrepreneurship we can expect from Rubio in the future, color me unimpressed.