Thursday, September 10, 2009

Obama's Health Care Address and Representative Joe Wilson

Last night President Obama gave his much-anticipated speech to a joint session of Congress on health care reform. I watched the beginning then listened while getting ready for the Dewey fantasy draft.

He did a nice job of balancing (a) standing up to his critics with (b) encouraging a continued willingness to negotiate. Unfortunately, he still did not provide any details on how the expanded insurance coverage will be paid for -- he talked more about cutting out waste in the existing system, but I do not understand what all this "waste" is and how exactly the new law will eliminate it.

The big story of the day was South Carolina Representative Joe Wilson's scream of "You lie" when Obama stated that his bill will not provide insurance to illegal immigrants. Most of the coverage today has been on the drama and politics of Wilson's rudeness, but I'm more interested in what the proposals actually say about illegal immigrants. Here's what I found at

Obama said that his proposal would not cover illegal immigrants, a remark that prompted Republican Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina to shout "You lie!"

Obama: There are also those who claim that our reform effort will insure illegal immigrants. This, too, is false – the reforms I’m proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.

The president is correct: The House bill contains a section (Sec. 246) titled "NO FEDERAL PAYMENT FOR UNDOCUMENTED ALIENS," which states: "Nothing in this subtitle shall allow Federal payments for affordability credits on behalf of individuals who are not lawfully present in the United States."

However, conservative critics object to a lack of specific enforcement measures in the bill. They argue that the lack of a specific verification mechanism constitutes a loophole that would allow illegal immigrants to get benefits despite the legal prohibition. Republican Rep. Dean Heller of Nevada proposed an amendment to the bill that would have required the use of the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements program to check the citizenship of anyone applying for federal coverage or affordability credits. SAVE is the program used by Medicaid and similar entitlement programs. That amendment was voted down along party lines by the House Ways and Means Committee.

Republicans have a point here: More could be done to enforce the ban. But it’s worth remembering that, as a spokesperson for the American Immigration Lawyers Association told us, attempting to get a health care credit would have legal repercussions. "Making a fraudulent claim to an entitlement program when you’re not actually entitled to it would have serious consequences for any person," the spokesperson told us, "but especially if it’s considered a false claim to citizenship, that would have serious immigration consequences that could ultimately lead to deportation." And Rep. Wilson certainly was out of bounds to call the president’s statement a "lie." He later issued a statement apologizing for his "inappropriate and regrettable" comments.

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