By Roy Beck
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.