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As Health Care Winds Down, Immigration Emerges

March 12, 2010 - by Eric Naing

As Democrats were wrapping up, or so they thought, the health care bills last winter, two hot button social issues threatened to derail everything: abortion and immigration. With Democrats once again at the health care finish line, abortion has already resurfaced and now immigration has reemerged.

Yesterday, President Obama met with ten advocacy groups pushing for immigration reform. Their demand: provide some kind of framework for an immigration reform bill by March 21, when the same organizations are planning a major rally in in Washington. Obama, who has broken his campaign promise to help pass an immigration bill in his first year, agreed to their request.

The same day, Obama met with two senators who have been key players in crafting a Senate immigration bill: Sen. Chuck Schumer [D, NY] and Sen. Lindsey Graham [R, SC]. Schumer and Graham presented Obama with a rough outline of a Senate immigration bill which includes, as reported by the L.A. Times, “tougher border security, a program to admit temporary immigrant workers and a biometric Social Security card that would prevent people here illegally from getting jobs.”

But after the meeting, Graham released a statement that virtually extinguished any hope of Republican support for an immigration bill:

I expressed, in no uncertain terms, my belief that immigration reform could come to a halt for the year if health care reconciliation goes forward… For more than a year, health care has sucked most of the energy out of the room. Using reconciliation to push health care through will make it much harder for Congress to come together on a topic as important as immigration.

Democrats, of course, have already firmly committed to using budget reconciliation to approve changes to the health care bill.

In the other chamber, Rep. Luis Gutierrez [D, IL-4], who has been a leader in the House on immigration, is now threatening to vote against the Senate health care bill (H.R.3950) due to language that prevents undocumented immigrants from participating in the health insurance exchange. Ironically, this is the very language that Rep. Joe Wilson [R, SC-2] very vocally claimed didn’t exist during the president’s health care speech to Congress last fall.

Gutierrez’s threat is certainly serious but is also very likely a way to gain leverage in the coming immigration debate. Gutierrez already voted for the House bill (H.R.3962) and grassroots pressure looks like it may help change his mind.

This highlights a point that I can’t stress enough: do not get caught up in reports on how one lawmaker says they may vote on health care. All signs point to the House voting on the Senate bill next week. And with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi [D, CA-8] under pressure to round up votes, now is an opportune time for bargaining. Someone like Gutierrez may be a “no” vote on health care right now, but that may change after the weight of the White House and the Speaker comes down on him or when some deal or promise maybe reached.


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