Hispanic Caucus Considering Health Care Flip-Flop

Legislative Update, Federation for American Immigration Reform, January 11, 2010

As Congressional leaders return to Washington to negotiate a final health care bill, immigration-related differences between the House and Senate versions may be forcing the pro-amnesty Congressional Hispanic Caucus to reconsider its support for health care reform.

This was the news on Capitol Hill last week as House and Senate leaders agreed to bypass the formal conference committee and instead pass the health care bill back and forth between the Senate and House. Under this scenario, the House would take up the Senate bill and either adopt it wholesale or amend it and send it back to the Senate. This process would continue with the bill “ping ponging” back and forth between the House and the Senate until the two chambers pass an identical bill. (TPMDC, January 4, 2010).

This process, however, is immediately putting the CHC under pressure regarding the bill’s immigration provisions. In November, when the House originally considered health care legislation (H.R.3962), the CHC insisted that illegal aliens have access to the health care exchange created in the bill. On November 5, 2009–just two days before the House passed its bill–CHC Chairwoman Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) announced that her 20-member caucus would vote against the final House bill if it included the Senate language barring illegal aliens from participating in the exchange. After a meeting with President Obama, Velazquez told Roll Call that the CHC had “made it very clear that we support the language that is in the House. We expect that the current language will not change.” (Roll Call, November 5, 2009). Ultimately, the language did not change, and the bill passed by the slimmest of margins: 220 -215. (Roll Call Vote #887, November 7, 2009).

Despite the CHC’s position, the Obama Administration said it would not support illegal alien participation in the health care exchange and the Senate followed suit, passing legislation prohibiting such access (H.R. 3590). (See FAIR’s Legislative Update, November 23, 2009). The negotiations in the Senate were so tense and the compromise so tenuous that Senators warned any changes would risk their support. Desperate to deliver on President Obama’s domestic policy priority, Congressional leaders are pressuring House members to accept the Senate compromise.

Thus, the CHC must now decide whether to concede to the Senate language. Last week, Capitol Hill blogs indicated that the CHC was considering capitulating on its position in exchange for a promise from the Obama Administration that the White House would begin pushing amnesty legislation in early 2010. (TPMDC, January 4, 2010). However, on January 5, The Atlantic reported that the CHC had not reached such an agreement. In fact, a spokesperson from the CHC stated that the caucus’ position “remains the same: it opposes provisions in the Senate health care bill that would negatively impact immigrants.” (The Atlantic, January 5, 2010).

Votes on health care legislation are expected to occur sometime over the course of the next three weeks. Stay tuned to FAIR for the latest developments.

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