Immigration Provision Has Hispanic Caucus Threatening ‘No’ Health Vote

Jared Allen, The Hill, March 10, 2010

A group of Hispanic lawmakers on Thursday will tell President Barack Obama that they may not vote for healthcare reform unless changes are made to the bill’s immigration provisions.

The scheduled meeting comes as Democratic leaders and the White House are struggling to craft a final bill that will attract 216 votes in the lower chamber.

Unlike abortion, immigration has flown beneath the radar, and almost seemed to vanish altogether as House Democrats have wrestled with how to accept a Senate healthcare bill far different from the one they passed in November.

But immigration remains just as explosive an issue and carries the same potential to derail the entire healthcare endgame, a number of Democrats said.

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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.

The Senate language would prohibit illegal immigrants’ buying healthcare coverage from the proposed health exchanges. The House-passed bill isn’t as restrictive, but it does–like the Senate bill–bar illegal immigrants from receiving federal subsidies to buy health insurance.

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

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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.”

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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.

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But one member of the Hispanic Caucus said that, when the issue was raised in November, Cuellar was the only Hispanic Democrat who vowed not to bring down the House healthcare bill over the Senate’s tougher treatment of undocumented workers.

On Wednesday, Cuellar said he doubted he would be alone if it happens again.

“If [the Senate language] comes up for a vote over here, I think there will be other folks who’ll be with me in not voting no over that language,” he said. “Are you going to stop the whole thing because of this provision here? I almost hate to say this, but it’s a cost-benefit analysis, a big-picture view.”

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One Hispanic House Democrat described Thursday’s meeting with Obama as “critical to him fully understanding our thinking, our understanding his, and all of us figuring out how we go forward on both this healthcare bill and immigration reform as a whole.”

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At a similar meeting at the White House in early November, which occurred just days before the House voted on its healthcare bill, the CHC failed to convince Obama to reject the Senate immigration language.

The result was a bloc of solid Democratic votes that remained up in the air until a deal was reached at the last minute to address the gap between the House and the Senate immigration restrictions during “conference negotiations.”

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