On Friday I explained how Rep. Joe Wilson’s controversial heckling during President Obama's joint Congressional address last Wednesday laid bare the ugly-as-ever, Republican illegal immigration wedge strategy for the nation to see.
What’s more astounding, I argued, was that key Democrats, Senators Baucus (D-MO) and Conrad (D-ND) to be specific, seemed to be validating Wilson's outburst. Republicans were scaring up a fake bogeyman – the undocumented immigrant who would benefit from taxpayer funded health insurance – and rather than pushing back with the facts, Baucus and Conrad told the American public to take them seriously.
Raising red flags, the White House took a similar tack late Friday evening, as ABC's political blogger Jake Tapper reports:
And within this conceit, the White House has declared the following:
- "Undocumented immigrants would not be able to buy private insurance on the exchange. Those who are lawfully present in this country would be able to participate.
- "Undocumented immigrants would be able to buy insurance in the non-exchange private market, just as they do today. That market will shrink as the exchange takes hold, but it will still exist and will be subject to reforms such as the bans on pre-existing conditions and caps.
- "Verification will be required when purchasing health insurance on the exchange. One option is the SAVE program (Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements) which states currently use to make sure that undocumented immigrants don’t participate in safety-net programs for which they are ineligible.
- "There would be no change in the law that requires emergency rooms to treat people who need emergency care, including undocumented immigrants. There is already a federal grant program that compensates states for emergency room costs associated with treatment of undocumented immigrants, a provision sponsored by a Republican lawmaker."
As a friend of mine remarked incredulously Friday night, "Wait, wait. We're going to say you can't BUY something in America?"
Look, if there's one thing that this debate over immigration in health care reform makes painfully clear, it's that any meaningful legislation that the President or Congress is looking to pass is going to continue to get hijacked by the Joe Wilson's of the world-- who, yes, are now feeling validated by all this scurrying around by Democratic leadership to make the bill "tougher" on immigrants. It will continue to get hijacked until meaningful immigration reform is passed. Period.
This bears repeating: we're never going to be able to have a rational policy debate in this country until we pass fair, comprehensive immigration reform.
We need real reform that repairs our dysfunctional immigration system to get people here legally, cracks down on employers who are gaming the system, and creates a pathway to citizenship for the millions of undocumented immigrants currently living and working in the shadows of our broken laws.
It's time for Democratic leadership to take half the time they currently devote to appeasing the likes of Joe Wilson and spend it winning the votes for real reform.
Note: Cross-posted at www.AmericasVoiceOnline.org/Blog.