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No, the current House immigration blowup isn't about Obamacare

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Timothy P. Carney,Immigration,Obamacare,House of Representatives

Liberal New York writer Jonathan Chait posits I have no idea what I’m talking about on immigration and health care. Among the many ways he says I’m wrong is when I reject his clear implication that Republicans are so “deranged” by Obamacare that they let unauthorized immigrants on the path to citizenship get tons of federal benefits, but just not Obamacare.

This isn’t true.

First, Chait is correct that I was confused on which group of unauthorized immigrants Nancy Pelosi was talking about. Thanks to him and Sahil Kapur for pointing that out.

Chait correctly points out that all the news reports on Raul Labrador’s walkout of the Gang of Eight meeting was about health care. But that doesn’t mean what Chait makes it out to mean. For two reasons this is not a matter of Labrador tolerating welfare for amnesty-path immigrants but denying them Obamacare.

1) Democrats are the ones singling out health care. 

The Senate bill says “An alien who has been granted blue card status is not eligible for any Federal means-tested public benefit …”

A staffer for one House Gang of Eight member negotiating the bill told me (with the caveat that negotiations are ongoing), the House language is “very similar if not identical to” the Senate language in this regard. The staffer added the House language is “at least as restrictive” on non-health federal benefits.

The disagreement is that Democrats want all amnesty-path immigrants to get some federal benefits in the area of health — while the rough agreement, as far as I can gather, is that these immigrants should not get food stamps or traditional welfare.

It’s not conservatives making an exception for health care. It’s conservatives denying an exception for health care.

2) The health care benefits in dispute aren’t part of Obamacare

Again, Chait’s contention is that “House Republicans’ hatred of Obamacare is at such deranged levels” that they are singling out Obamacare to deny to amnesty-path immigrants. But Obamacare’s benefits aren’t the health care benefits in dispute.

“It’s not about Obamacare,” Michael Earls, spokesman for the pro-reform group America’s Voice, told me Thursday about the dispute that drove Labrador from the Gang of Eight.

What is it about? Here’s how ABC’s Jim Avila describes it in a fuller article than the one Chait cited:

The struggle for agreement came when Republicans wanted to include language in the bill that would make undocumented immigrants responsible for 100 percent of their own medical expenses, in full.

Under current law, hospitals are required to give emergency care to anyone who walks in to a facility in need. The individual pays what they qualify for and Medicaid picks up the remainder, reimbursing the hospital for the difference.

Republicans wanted the undocumented immigrants personally responsible – out-of-pocket – for all the health care costs they incur.

Democrats suggested the creation of a fund or a pool of money to which  the 11 million undocumented immigrants would contribute to take care of any of health care costs for the 11 million.

But Labrador wasn’t going to budge, according to sources.

That doesn’t sound like it’s about Obamacare. That law about hospitals serving the uninsured is the 1986 Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act. In fact, as Politico reports, Obamacare actually cuts some of the Medicaid funding ABC mentions.

And that idea of an immigrant-funded pool of money is a new idea, not in Obamacare, to my knowledge.

An immigration-reform advocate quoted by the Miami Herald‘s Marc Caputo also cited a sticking point outside of Obamacare:

“As I understand it, they talked past each other,” Sharry said. “Democrats assumed emergency Medicaid would remain, and Republicans assumed these people would get nothing.”

I actually don’t agree with Labrador’s position here. On the substance, Chait and I agree. But on the notion of a GOP Obamacare Derangement derailing immigration, I don’t see any evidence in Chait’s writing yet.

(Chait has other disagreements with me in his latest post. But one is his psychoanalysis of me, which would be a waste of time for me to respond to. The other involves the sort of policy specifics where it’s better to engage the more careful claims of Chait’s wonkier colleagues.)

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