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Will The Immigration Language Stop The Health Care Bill?

The National Council of La Raza just issued their opposition to the health care bill, saying that the immigration restrictions (which disallow undocumented workers from buying coverage on the exchange with their own money) are too punitive to earn their support.

“[NCLR] believes in supporting efforts that address the concerns; the House bill did this, the Senate bill did not,” said Jennifer Ng’andu, Deputy Director of the Health Policy Project. “We supported the House bill. It contained rigorous safeguards that would extend access to health care to all U.S. residents while preventing unauthorized workers from receiving taxpayer-funded subsidies. The spirit of the bill worked to ensure access to coverage for vulnerable, eligible families and children, and it was a health reform plan worthy of our support. We cannot say the same for the Senate bill, nor can we support reconciliation if the health care reform proposal remains unchanged.”

In airing such concerns about the health care legislation so close to Congress voting on its passage, NCLR adds yet another element of intrigue into whether the bill actually has the necessary votes. Already, members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus have threatened to vote against the Senate bill for provisions that they argue would bar access to health care for even legal immigrants; prevent illegal immigrants from using their own money to purchase health insurance from the proposed health insurance exchanges; and would erect overly burdensome barriers to enrollment for Latino families and children.

Luis Gutierrez, who has been out front on this issue and continues to insist that he will vote against passage, wrote yesterday that he was no longer able to “confidently say yes” to the bill, which is actually a far cry from a firm No. But the NCLR opposition will have a lot of Hispanic lawmakers thinking. And there’s something else.

With the health care bill pushed back to Sunday, it will now coincide with a large protest on the National Mall from immigration reform supporters. The March for America has been planned for months, designed to spur action in Washington to a comprehensive solution to the immigration problem. The organizers are angry that their call for reform has been ignored and that immigrant raids have increased since President Obama entered office.

And now, members of Congress will be voting on a health care bill that punishes undocumented immigrants, on the same day. Some of them, like Gutierrez (whose op-ed is much more about getting immigration reform going than health care) may take to the lectern moments before voting. This dynamic really does impact whether Hispanic House members can justify their vote.

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David Dayen

David Dayen