The House may be closer to settling the immigration issues in the health-care bill this week, but the issue is sure to rear its head again further down the road in the legislative process. In the manager’s amendment to the bill released Tuesday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi confirmed that the House would not adopt the stricter measures included in the Senate Finance Committee’s bill to bar illegal immigrants from purchasing insurance in the federal health exchanges. With Pelosi's amendment now included, both the House and Senate bills follow the Social Security Act’s verification process to allow only immigrants who can provide a valid name and Social Security number to receive government subsidies to buy insurance on the exchanges. However, the House bill does not prohibit illegal immigrants from using their own money to purchase private insurance in the exchanges or the public plan, while the Senate bans this practice.
Groups advocating for a crackdown on illegal immigrants had been lobbying hard for the stricter provisions to be adopted on the House side, but they were met with fierce opposition from members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), who threatened to hold up the bill if stricter prohibitions were adopted. Interestingly, though, few House Democrats entered the fight to exclude illegal immigrants from accessing health care -- on the Hill, the concerns about immigration were essentially taken up by proxy, via DCCC chair Chris Van Hollen, who wanted to protect vulnerable members from getting slammed on the issue. The conservative House members angriest about the immigration provisions are Republicans like Joe Wilson who were going to vote against the bill anyway, giving their side little leverage compared to powerful Hispanic Caucus members like Xavier Becerra. With few conservative Dems making threats, the House seems to have reached a resolution of the issue that the CHC can live with.
But the immigration question is far from being resolved in the larger legislative debate. For one thing, the White House supports the Senate's prohibition on allowing illegal immigrants to purchase health insurance with their own money on the exchange and had a meeting scheduled with the CHC today to discuss the issue. While allowing such access wouldn't entail government handouts to illegal immigrants, Senate Democrats and administration officials remain wary of such accusations. And when the Senate bill comes to the floor, expect a slew of Republican amendments that could force Democrats to take politically difficult votes on the issue.