The virulently open-border Congressional Hispanic Caucus appears poised to vote FOR health care verification requirements that they vehemently oppose. And that is both a great irony of this protracted debate and a sign that grassroots activists for sensible immigration policies can take at least some satisfaction for all of their efforts this past year to make sure that whatever happens on health care, there won't be big extra incentives for breaking immigration laws.
We have to take some pleasure watching the Caucus and other pro-illegal-immigration organizations in a final frenzy of pressure this week against congressional Democratic leaders and against Pres. Obama, begging them to make it easier for illegal aliens to benefit from the latest national health care proposal, if it passes. It is fairly evident that the verification procedures they oppose are going to stay in the final health care bill.
Some of my staff who have been most involved with this fight have outlined an interesting review of what we won and where we fell short in this nearly year-long battle to keep any change in health care policy from enticing more illegal immigration.
IMMIGRATION OUR ONLY HORSE IN THE HEALTH CARE DEBATE
As everyone should know, NumbersUSA is a single-issue organization. We work on immigration, and nothing but immigration. We sometimes get urged to weigh in on other issues, from the conservative and liberal directions. But unless there’s a sufficiently strong impact on legal or illegal immigration levels, we decline.
Our sole mission is to restore American immigration to traditional levels and to reduce the size of the illegal population through an “Attrition Through Enforcement” strategy. We’re all immigration all the time — no other issue.
But because of the sheer numeric exposure from covering illegal aliens under health reform legislation, NumbersUSA did get involved in part of the health care debate. We supported efforts to beef up verification of eligibility based on immigration status.
Enrollment in government health programs such as Medicaid, without first verifying someone is not an illegal alien, would create too great of a reward for an alien’s illegal act. The absence of verification requirements would also produce an added incentive to sneak across the border illegally.
OUR/YOUR FIGHT LAST SUMMER IN THE HOUSE
We thus backed efforts by Reps. Nathan Deal and Dean Heller in the House health care debate to add eligibility verification requirements.
- Rep. Deal’s amendment would have required checking Medicaid and CHIP applicants in the SAVE system.
- Rep. Heller’s amendment would have required SAVE usage to screen those getting taxpayer-subsidized health coverage and the premium subsidy in the “exchange.”
Our allies lost those battles in committee, but partially won the next battle.
After Rep. Joe Wilson forced President Obama’s hand on whether or not illegal aliens would get government health care, Speaker Nancy Pelosi introduced a new House bill. The Pelosi version included a verification provision. It’s a very weak, vague requirement and only applies to the “exchange,” premium subsidy, and “public option,” but our effort helped force her hand.
NumbersUSA activists sent House members tens of thousands of faxes demanding verification. Wilson, Deal, and Heller were vindicated. And our issue caused House leadership to blink — at least a little bit.
THE BATTLE IN THE SENATE
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was paying attention, and the Senate bill he drafted included a better eligibility verification requirement than the one in the House legislation. The Senate bill requires enrollees to be screened to ensure eligibility on immigration status for the “exchange,” public plan, and premium subsidy. Unfortunately, though the Senate bill makes electronic verification a requirement, it sets up a new, loophole-prone system instead of simply requiring usage of the SAVE system.
So, our people achieved some progress in the Senate-passed bill over the House bill.
The House Hispanic Caucus commented in December that the Senate verification provisions were more than they could support.
But we couldn't be fully happy with the provisions, either. Both bills make it easier to enroll people in Medicaid, so both bills create some possibility of rewards for illegal immigration.
FINAL WHITE HOUSE PROPOSAL
Now, the White House is trying to push health reform across the goal line. And Pres. Obama appears to have been pushed by popular demand to stick with the more immigration-restrictive Senate bill.
And while the President is tweaking the Senate bill to make it more palatable to liberal Democrats, he does not seem to have made any of the immigration changes sought by the Hispanic Caucus. Thus, my staff experts tell me, the relatively better eligibility verification measures of the Senate-passed bill will be the rules should a bill pass. It isn't as good as we would have written it. But it does represent a huge improvement over the permissive rules the leadership had planned last summer.
HISPANIC CAUCUS LIKELY FURTHER DEMORALIZED BY HAVING TO VOTE FOR EXTRA VERIFICATION
So, where do things stand? The Democratic leadership and the president have said they will use the budget reconciliation process in order to get around a Senate filibuster. They’re still lining up votes in the House. Recall that the Congressional Hispanic Caucus members voted for the House bill last fall, and this new version cannot pass without the Caucus's support. Despite all the Caucus's huff and bluff, it will not risk deep enmity from the Party Leadership by killing the healthcare bill over the verification issue, I am told.
Under reconciliation rules, the House must initiate budget reconciliation bills. Health reform proponents look to be finagling things to get health reform enacted by Easter recess, but they’re having to follow a less than optimal path, from their perspective.
At this time, it appears the House will take up the Senate-passed bill on March 19. Passage by both bodies of exactly the same version of legislation allows them to avoid a conference committee.
On March 21, the House will move a budget reconciliation bill. This legislation will make changes to the Senate bill that the president has tenderly worked out and that are intended to mollify House liberals (but not on immigration). Two days later, the Senate will likely act on the House-passed reconciliation package.
Why would NumbersUSA count any of this a partial victory for our issue? First, we will have succeeded in getting tougher eligibility verification measures enacted. The reconciliation bill won’t do a thing to rewrite the Senate bill’s requirements.
Second, House Hispanic Caucus Members will have ended up voting to write into law the very verification measures they loudly opposed. They will give Speaker Pelosi and President Obama the votes necessary to put into place measures that will at least partially bar illegal aliens from taking advantage of public health programs set up as key elements of health reform.
Third, by stretching out the debate on health care, our role in this fight has delayed Congress from turning its attention to another amnesty fight. That is, the President and Democratic congressional leadership have burned a lot of political capital on health reform. That, plus the lost time, is gone for good. There’s a whole lot less political capital and time on the legislative calendar to spend on another hugely controversial issue like “comprehensive immigration reform.”
Fourth, by choosing to cut their losses on covering as many illegal aliens in health reform and by prioritizing health care over immigration, Democratic leaders have demoralized the most intensely open-borders legislators and lobbies. For instance, the National Council of La Raza felt the cold shoulder from lawmakers gathered last Thursday at the White House health reform summit. La Raza informed its supporters:
Despite more than six hours of discussion, no meaningful consensus could be reached, and Latino and immigrant priorities were left out of the conversation altogether.
-- National Council of La Raza
Therefore, we haven’t gotten all we wanted in what’s likely to be the final health legislation. But our efforts amount to a partial victory. And the fact Hispanic Caucus members in Congress will have supported verification gives this an ironic twist indeed.
ROY BECK is Founder & CEO of NumbersUSA