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Topics: Obamacare

Obamacare’s tariff on hiring American workers still plagues immigration bill

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Congress,Philip Klein,Immigration,Obamacare,Marco Rubio

An unnamed staffer for Sen. Marco Rubio has caused the latest stir over the immigration bill by telling the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza that, “There are American workers who, for lack of a better term, can’t cut it…There shouldn’t be a presumption that every American worker is a star performer.” Rubio himself was quick to explain that the quote did not represent his own views. But in reality, the immigration bill Rubio is pushing, when combined with President Obama’s health care law, would actually do something much worse than make it easier for employers to hire immigrant workers over American citizens – it would provide a massive financial incentive to do so.

As I’ve outlined previously, under Obamacare, businesses with over 50 workers that employ American citizens without offering them qualifying health insurance could be subject to fines of up to $3,000 per worker. But because newly legalized immigrants wouldn’t be eligible for subsidies on the Obamacare exchanges until after they become citizens – at least 13 years under the Senate bill – businesses could avoid such fines by hiring the new immigrants instead.

Let’s be clear about something. In a free market, if a new immigrant worker can do a job better than an American worker for a cheaper price, there shouldn’t be a problem with a business hiring the immigrant. But when the immigration bill interacts with Obamacare’s employer mandate, it functions as a reverse tariff against hiring American citizens. It would be like subjecting Americans to a $3,000 tax on purchasing American cars, while allowing them to avoid that tax by purchasing cars from Germany, Japan, or any other country other than America. That’s not free trade. That’s government rigging the game against American citizens.

Sadly, Rubio, who is losing more and more credibility by the day among conservatives, has shown absolutely no leadership on trying to resolve this problem. When I first reported on the issue in April, Rubio spokesman Alex Conant responded that this was the sort of technical problem that could be fixed through amendments as the bill moved through the legislative process. But the issue was never addressed in the more than 200 amendments offered before the Senate Judiciary committee.  None of the listed amendments filed since the bill made it to the Senate floor last week tackle the problem either. Despite this, Rubio declared on Sunday, “I think 95, 96 percent of the bill is in perfect shape and ready to go.” I don’t even think Obama would make such an audacious statement about Obamacare to this day.

When I contacted Conant for an update on Monday, he said that Rubio’s position is that “the problem is Obamacare, and it’s an argument for repealing Obamacare.” But that’s just a nonsense position. However unlikely it is that Obamacare ever gets fully repealed, there’s zero chance it gets repealed while Obama is president. And if the immigration bill passes, immigrants would be granted legal status before January 20, 2017 (and that date assumes that a Republican president and Senate could magically zap out Obamacare in one day). So, immigration law has to be crafted assuming that Obamacare will remain the law of the land.

Even putting that aside, however, there’s another problem with Rubio’s position. If this is such a good argument for repealing Obamacare, then why isn’t he making it? Specifically, why isn’t he making the argument that because of Obamacare, it’s difficult to reform immigration without creating the unintended consequences of slapping a massive tariff on hiring American citizens? The reality is that Rubio has become so invested in immigration reform that he doesn’t want to seriously grapple with a complex issue like this that could blow the whole thing up.

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Philip Klein

Commentary Editor
The Washington Examiner