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ObamaCare's Other Nemesis: Undocumented Workers

Shikha Dalmia
March 11, 2010, 8:53pm

The so-called Stupak amendment concerning federal funding of abortion has commanded all the attention of bean-counters on ObamaCare. Michael Barone this morning in the Wall Street Journal does some fine-toothed analysis showing that the Senate abortion language - if not fixed to the liking of Stupak and his cohort in the House -- would cost ObamaCare enough votes to make it a dead letter in the House. 

But another equally big issue that has commanded no attention and could cost the Senate bill as many - if not more - votes in the House is the immigration issue.

First, some background: The Senate bill bans undocumented aliens from buying coverage from the proposed government-created insurance exchange, even with their own money. This will essentially mean that these workers will be completely frozen out of the health care market - public or private, given that non-exchange-based insurance plans will become prohibitively expensive if not driven out of the market altogether under ObamaCare. Far from providing universal coverage, ObamaCare will become a vehicle to permanently deny coverage to about six million uninsured.

Indeed, at the same time then that government will tell Americans how they must spend their money, thanks to the individual mandate, it will tell undocumented aliens how they can't spend theirs. "Government intrusiveness combined with government discrimination is not a formula for social justice," I wrote in a recent Forbes column. "The government hasn't claimed the authority to selectively withhold access to public facilities since the Jim Crow era."

Needless to say the House Hispanic Caucus - which controls 20+ votes - doesn't like this one bit. It has all along opposed the Senate exchange ban. And now The Hill is reporting that many members of the caucus told President Obama today that they can't vote for the Senate bill so long as it contains the ban. Notes The Hill:

Since last fall, Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) members have kept quiet, at least publicly, about their objections to the immigration provisions in the Senate bill.

But Hispanic Democrats say they haven't moved from their stance that they will not vote for a healthcare bill containing the Senate's prohibitions.

They claim that while it may be politically popular in some parts of the country to ban illegal immigrants from using their own money to buy coverage, it is not good policy. Illegal immigrants will, one way or another, need medical attention in the United States, and it would be cheaper and more humane to provide them coverage if they pay for it. Otherwise, they will seek treatments in the nation's emergency rooms, effectively increasing medical costs.

"I don't think the landscape has changed dramatically from where it was before," Becerra said.

Every CHC member voted for the House bill last November.

On Wednesday, members of the CHC privately acknowledged they've told their leaders that anyone who is assuming they've backed away from their position is in for a rude awakening.

"The [Hispanic] Caucus didn't want to raise it as an issue too early," one Hispanic Democrat said Wednesday. "But it's real. It's a problem."

Those alarm bells have apparently been heard. CHC Chairwoman Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) said she and others have, on behalf of two dozen Hispanic Democrats, been in discussions with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other leaders about how to resolve the matter.

"And we will continue having discussions," Velazquez said.

However, it is unlikely that the Senate will be able to change the immigration provisions under reconciliation rules. And even if it is deemed possible, there may not be enough support in either chamber of Congress to do it.

Not every member of the CHC would stand in the way of healthcare over the immigration issue. As a House leader, it would be unlikely for Becerra to vote against the president's signature domestic policy priority. And centrist Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) said the Senate language is "not a deal-killer" for him.

If even half of the Hispanic caucus flips, ObamaCare will be toast - Stupak or no Stupak.

Post Script: Jennifer Ngandu of the National Council of La Raza, an immigration advocacy outfit that is following this issue closely, whom I spoke to last week said that one way the caucus could be persuaded to vote for the Senate bill would be if it had reason to believe that the ban would be removed during reconciliation. But for that to happen, the Congressional Budget Office would have to score the ban so that it could then officially become a budgetary matter. That, however, she said was not very likely.


Shikha Dalmia is Senior Analyst


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